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TRAIL, an apoptosis inducing ligand, has at least four cell surface receptors including the death receptor DR5. Here we report the crystal structure at 2.2 A resolution of a complex between TRAIL and the extracellular region of DR5. TRAIL forms a central homotrimer around which three DR5 molecules bind. Radical differences in the surface charge of the ligand, together with variation in the alignment of the two receptor domains confer specificity between members of these ligand and receptor families. The existence of a switch mechanism allowing variation in receptor domain alignment may mean that it is possible to engineer receptors with multiple specificities by exploiting contact positions unique to individual receptor-ligand pairs.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Struct Biol

Publication Date





1048 - 1053


Amino Acid Sequence, Apoptosis, Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins, Crystallography, X-Ray, Humans, Ligands, Membrane Glycoproteins, Models, Molecular, Molecular Sequence Data, Protein Binding, Protein Conformation, Receptors, TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand, Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor, Sequence Alignment, Structure-Activity Relationship, Substrate Specificity, TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand, Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha