The Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) is a Receptor Tyrosine Kinase that mediates cell proliferation and differentiation events during development and maintenance of complex organisms.  Formation of specific, ligand-dependent EGFR dimers is a key step in stimulating EGFR signaling, and crystal structures of active, dimeric forms of isolated EGFR extracellular regions and kinase domains have revealed much about how dimer interactions regulate EGFR activity.  The nature and role of the transmembrane region in regulating EGFR activity remains less clear, however.  Proposed roles for the transmembrane region range from nonspecific but energetically favorable interactions to specific transmembrane dimer conformations being associated with active, inactive, or activity-modulated states of EGFR.  To investigate the role of specific transmembrane dimers in modulating EGFR activity we generated thirteen EGFR variants with altered transmembrane sequences designed to favor or disfavor specific types of transmembrane region interactions.  We show using FRET microscopy that EGFR transmembrane regions have an intrinsic propensity to associate in mammalian cell membranes that is counteracted by the extracellular region.  We show using cell-based assays that each of the EGFR transmembrane variants except the Neu variant, which results in constitutive receptor phosphorylation, is able to autophosphorylate and stimulate phosphorylation of downstream effectors Erk and Akt.  Our results indicate that many transmembrane sequences, including poly-leucine, are compatible with EGFR activity and provide no evidence for specific transmembrane dimers regulating EGFR function.

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