Background: The collagenases are members of the family of zinc-dependent enzymes known as the matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). They are the only proteinases that specifically cleave the collagen triple helix, and are important in a large number of physiological and pathological processes. Structures are known for the N-terminal catalytic' domain of collagenases MMP-1 and MMP-8 and of stromelysin (MMP-3). This catalytic domain alone, which comprises about 150 amino acids, has no activity against collagen. A second domain, of 200 amino acids, is homologous to haemopexin, a haem-binding glycoprotein.
Results: The crystal structure of full-length MMP-1 at 2.5 A resolution gives an R-factor of 21.7%. Two domains are connected by an exposed proline-rich linker of 17 amino acids, which is probably flexible and has no secondary structure. The catalytic domain resembles those previously observed, and contains three calcium-binding sites. The haemopexin-like domain contains four units of four-stranded antiparallel beta sheet stabilized on its fourfold axis by a cation, which is probably calcium. The domain constitutes a four-bladed beta-propeller structure in which the blades are scarcely twisted.
Conclusions: The exposed linker accounts for the difficulty in purifying full-length collagenase. The C-terminal domain provides a structural model for haemopexin and its homologues. It controls the specificity of MMPs, affecting both substrate and inhibitor binding, although its role remains obscure. These structural results should aid the design of site-specific mutants which will reveal further details of the specificity mechanism.