Elasticity and rupture of a multi-domain neural cell adhesion molecule complex

Venkat Maruthamuthu, Klaus Schulten, Deborah Leckband

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM) plays an important role in nervous system development. NCAM forms a complex between its terminal domains Ig1 and Ig2. When NCAM of cell A and of cell B connect to each other through complexes Ig12(A)/Ig12(B), the relative mobility of cells A and B and membrane tension exerts a force on the Ig12(A)/Ig12(B) complex. In this study, we investigated the response of the complex to force, using steered molecular dynamics. Starting from the structure of the complex from the Ig1-Ig2-Ig3 fragment, we first demonstrated that the complex, which differs in dimensions from a previous structure from the Ig1-Ig2 fragment in the crystal environment, assumes the same extension when equilibrated in solvent. We then showed that, when the Ig12(A)/Ig12(B) complex is pulled apart with forces 30-70 pN, it exhibits elastic behavior (with a spring constant of ∼0.03 N/m) because of the relative reorientation of domains Ig1 and Ig2. At higher forces, the complex ruptures; i.e., Ig12(A) and Ig12(B) separate. The interfacial interactions between Ig12(A) and Ig12(B), monitored throughout elastic extension and rupture, identify E16, F19, K98, and L175 as key side chains stabilizing the complex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3005-3014
Number of pages10
JournalBiophysical journal
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics


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