Background: The Arg-Gly-Asp (RGD) cell adhesion sequence occurs in several extracellular matrix molecules known to interact with integrin cell-surface receptors. Recently published crystal structures of the extracellular regions of two integrins in complex with peptides containing or mimicking the RGD sequence have identified the Arg and Asp residues as key specificity determinants for integrin recognition, through hydrogen bonding and metal coordination interactions. The central Gly residue also appears to be in close contact with the integrin surface in these structures.
Results: When hydrogen atoms are modelled on the central Gly residue with standard stereochemistry, the interaction between this residue and a carbonyl group in the integrin surface shows all the hallmarks of Calpha-H...O = C hydrogen bonding, as seen in the collagen triple helix and in many crystal structures of small organic molecules. Moreover, molecular dynamic simulations of the docking of RGD-containing fragments on integrin surfaces support the occurrence of these interactions. There appears to be an array of four weak and conventional hydrogen bonds lining up the RGD residues with main chain carbonyl groups in the integrin surface.
Conclusions: The occurrence of weak Calpha-H...O = C hydrogen bonds in the RGD-integrin interaction highlights the importance of the conserved Gly residue in the RGD motif and its contribution to integrin-ligand binding specificity. Our analysis shows how weak hydrogen bonds may also play important biological roles by contributing to the specificity of macromolecular recognition.