Mutations in intermediate filament protein genes are responsible for a number of inherited genetic diseases including skin blistering diseases, corneal opacities, and neurological degenerations. Mutation of the arginine (Arg) residue of the highly conserved LNDR motif has been shown to be causative in inherited disorders in at least four different intermediate filament (IF) proteins found in skin, cornea, and the central nervous system. Thus this residue appears to be broadly important to IF assembly and/or function. While the genetic basis for these diseases has been clearly defined, the inability to determine crystal structure for IFs has precluded a determination of how these mutations affect assembly/structure/function of IFs. To investigate the impact of mutation at this site in IFs, we have mutated the LNDR to LNDS in vimentin, a Type III intermediate filament protein, and have examined the impact of this change on assembly using electron paramagnetic resonance. Compared with wild type vimentin, the mutant shows normal formation of the coiled coil dimer, with a slight reduction in the stability of the dimer in rod domain 1. Probing the dimer-dimer interactions shows the formation of normal dimer centered on residue 191 but a failure of dimerization at residue 348 in rod domain 2. These data point toward a specific stage of assembly at which a common disease-causing mutation in IF proteins interrupts assembly.
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