Background: The N-terminal SH2 domain (N-SH2) of the non-receptor tyrosine phosphatase SHP-2 is involved both in localization of SHP-2 by recognition of phosphotyrosine (pY) peptides and self-inhibition of SHP-2 phosphatase activity through the formation of a protein-protein interface with the phosphatase domain. Mutations that disrupt this interface break the coupling between pY-peptide binding cleft conformation and self-inhibition, thereby increasing both SHP-2 phosphatase activity and pY-peptide binding affinity, and are associated with the congenital condition Noonan syndrome and various pediatric leukemias. To better characterize the molecular process involved in N-SH2 pY-dependent binding, we have applied explicit-solvent molecular dynamics simulations to study the closed-to-open transition of the N-SH2 pY-peptide binding cleft.
Results: The existence of stable conformations in the left-handed helical and the extended regions of Tyr66 phi/psi space prevent rapid interconversion of the backbone and create a conformational switch such that Tyr66 in a left-handed helical backbone conformation results in an open cleft and in an extended backbone conformation results in a closed cleft. The stable conformations arise from deep, well-localized free-energy minima in the left-handed helical and extended regions of the Tyr66 phi/psi map. Changing the Tyr66 backbone conformation from extended to left-handed helical induces a closed-to-open transition in the cleft, and the reverse change in backbone conformation induces the reverse, open-to-closed transition. In the open-cleft state, weak solvent-exposed interactions involving the sidechains of Tyr66, Asp40, Lys55, and Gln57 serve to anchor the Tyr66 sidechain to the surface of the protein and away from the binding cleft entrance, thereby facilitating pY-peptide access to the binding cleft.
Conclusion: The simulations point to a regulatory role for Tyr66 and surrounding residues in SHP-2 function: mutations at Tyr66, Asp40, Lys55, and/or Gln57 are predicted to break the switching mechanism and negatively impact pY-peptide binding. This in turn would interfere with cellular localization and the coupled SHP-2 phosphatase activity. The structurally well-defined binding cleft conformations resulting from the switch-like transition suggest the possibility of applying structure-based methods to develop inhibitors of N-SH2 pY-peptide binding to serve as research tools for signal transduction and precursors to therapeutics for SHP-2-related diseases.