Changes in Apaf-1 Conformation That Drive Apoptosome Assembly
Apoptosome assembly is highly regulated in the intrinsic cell death pathway. To better understand this step, we created an improved model of the human apoptosome using a crystal structure of full length Apaf-1 and a single particle, electron density map at ∼9.5 Å resolution. The apoptosome model includes N-terminal domains of Apaf-1, cognate β-propellers, and cytochrome c. A direct comparison of Apaf-1 in the apoptosome and as a monomer reveals conformational changes that occur during the first two steps of assembly. This includes an induced-fit mechanism for cytochrome c binding to regulatory β-propellers, which is dependent on shape and charge complementarity, and a large rotation of the nucleotide binding module during nucleotide exchange. These linked conformational changes create an extended Apaf-1 monomer and drive apoptosome assembly. Moreover, the N-terminal CARD in the inactive Apaf-1 monomer is not shielded from other proteins by β-propellers. Hence, the Apaf-1 CARD may be free to interact with a procaspase-9 CARD either before or during apoptosome assembly. Irrespective of the timing, the end product of assembly is a holo-apoptosome with an acentric CARD-CARD disk and tethered pc-9 catalytic domains. Subsequent activation of pc-9 leads to a proteolytic cascade and cell death.
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