Background: The CD40 ligand (CD40L) is a member of the tumor necrosis factor (TNF) family of proteins and is transiently expressed on the surface of activated T cells. The binding of CD40L to CD40, which is expressed on the surface of B cells, provides a critical and unique pathway of cellular activation resulting in antibody isotype switching, regulation of apoptosis, and B cell proliferation and differentiation. Naturally occurring mutations of CD40L result in the clinical hyper-IgM syndrome, characterized by an inability to produce immunoglobulins of the IgG, IgA and IgE isotypes.
Results: We have determined the crystal structure of a soluble extracellular fragment of human CD40L to 2 A resolution and with an R factor of 21.8%. Although the molecule forms a trimer similar to that found for other members of the TNF family, such as TNF alpha and lymphotoxin-alpha, and exhibits a similar overall fold, there are considerable differences in several loops including those predicted to be involved in CD40 binding.
Conclusions: The structure suggests that most of the hyper-IgM syndrome mutations affect the folding and stability of the molecule rather than the CD40-binding site directly. Despite the fact that the hyper-IgM syndrome mutations are dispersed in the primary sequence, a large fraction of them are clustered in space in the vicinity of a surface loop, close to the predicted CD40-binding site.