Mutation of Non-Essential Cysteines Shows that NF-κB Essential Modulator (NEMO) Forms a Constitutive Noncovalent Dimer that Binds IκB Kinase-β (IKKβ) with High Affinity.
NEMO (NF-κB essential modulator) associates with the catalytic subunits IKKα and IKKβ to form the IκB kinase (IKK) complex, and is a key regulator of NF-κB pathway signaling. Biochemical and structural characterization of NEMO has been challenging, however, leading to conflicting data on basic biochemical properties such as the oligomeric state of active NEMO and its binding affinity for IKKβ. We show that up to seven of NEMO's 11 cysteine residues can be mutated to generate recombinant full-length NEMO that is highly soluble and active. Using a fluorescence anisotropy binding assay we show that full-length NEMO binds a 44-mer peptide encompassing residues 701-745 of IKKβ with KD = 2.2 ± 0.8 nM. The IKKβ binding affinities of mutants with five and seven Cys-to-Ala substitutions are indistinguishable from that of wild-type NEMO. Moreover, when expressed in NEMO /- fibroblasts, the 5xAla and 7xAla NEMO mutants can interact with cellular IKKβ and restore NF κB signaling to provide protection against TNFα-induced cell death. Treatment of the NEMO-reconstituted cells with H2O2 led to formation of covalent dimers for wild-type NEMO and the 5xAla mutant, but not for the 7xAla mutant, confirming that Cys54 and/or Cys347 can mediate inter-chain disulfide bonding. However, the IKKβ binding affinity of NEMO is unaffected by the presence or absence of inter-chain disulfide bonding at Cys54 - which lies within the IKKβ binding domain of NEMO - or at Cys347, indicating that NEMO exists as a noncovalent dimer independent of the redox state of its cysteines. This conclusion was corroborated by the observation that the secondary structure content of the NEMO, its thermal stability, and its activity in cells were independent of the presence or absence of inter-chain disulfide bonds.