Cell-surface expressed contactin 1 and neurofascin 155 control wiring of the nervous system and interact across cells to form and maintain paranodal myelin-axon junctions. The molecular mechanism of contactin 1 - neurofascin 155 adhesion complex formation is unresolved. Crystallographic structures of complexed and individual contactin 1 and neurofascin 155 binding regions presented here, provide a rich picture of how competing and complementary interfaces, post-translational glycosylation, splice differences and structural plasticity enable formation of diverse adhesion sites. Structural, biophysical, and cell-clustering analysis reveal how conserved Ig1-2 interfaces form competing heterophilic contactin 1 - neurofascin 155 and homophilic neurofascin 155 complexes whereas contactin 1 forms low-affinity clusters through interfaces on Ig3-6. The structures explain how the heterophilic Ig1-Ig4 horseshoe's in the contactin 1 - neurofascin 155 complex define the 7.4 nm paranodal spacing and how the remaining six domains enable bridging of distinct intercellular distances.
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