Scripps Florida Scientists’ Structural Discoveries Could Aid in Better Drug Design

For the first time, they have uncovered the structural details of how some proteins interact to turn two different signals into a single integrated output. These new findings could aid future drug design by giving scientists an edge in fine tuning the signal between these partnered proteins—and the drug’s course of action.

“Thyroid, vitamin D and retinoid receptors all rely on integrated signals—their own signal plus a partner receptor,” said TSRI Associate Professor Kendall Nettles, who led the study with TSRI colleague Associate Professor Douglas Kojetin. “These new findings will have important implications for drug design by clearly defining exactly how these signals become integrated, so we will be able to predict how changes in a drug’s design could affect signaling.”

The study was published recently in the journal Nature Communications.

Using a number of complementary technologies, including nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), X-ray crystallography and hydrogen/deuterium exchange (HDX) mass spectrometry from the laboratory of Scripps Florida colleague Chair of the Department of Molecular Therapeutics Patrick R. Griffin, the scientists were able to determine the mechanism through which two signaling pathways become integrated.

The study focused on a small subset of nuclear receptors, a large family of proteins that regulate gene expression in response to signals from various binding partners, including steroids and fats. Once receptors sense the presence of these binding partners, they send out new signals that initiate other cellular processes.

“Nuclear receptors bind different types of molecules, and some of these receptors physically interact with each other to integrate different signals,” Kojetin said. “Earlier studies basically accepted this without any structural evidence for communication between receptors. This is the first time that anyone has looked at what’s actually going on at the atomic level.”

In addition to Nettles, Kojetin and Griffin, authors of the study, “Structural Mechanism for Signal Transduction in RXR Nuclear Receptor Heterodimers,” include Edna Matta-Camacho, Travis S. Hughes, Sathish Srinivasan, Jerome C. Nwachukwu, Valerie Cavett, Jason Nowak, Michael J. Chalmers, David P. Marciano and Theodore M. Kamenecka of TSRI; Andrew I. Shulman of the University of California, Irvine; Mark Rance of the University of Cincinnati; and John B. Bruning of The University of Adelaide. See

The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (grants DK101871, GM114420, GM063855, RR019077, RR027755, MH084512, GM084041, RR027270 and CA132022), the Frenchman’s Creek Women for Cancer Research, the James and Esther King Biomedical Research Program, the Florida Department of Health and the State of Florida.

About The Scripps Research Institute


The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) is one of the world’s largest independent, not-for-profit organizations focusing on research in the biomedical sciences. TSRI is internationally recognized for its contributions to science and health, including its role in laying the foundation for new treatments for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, hemophilia, and other diseases. An institution that evolved from the Scripps Metabolic Clinic founded by philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps in 1924, the institute now employs about 2,700 people on its campuses in La Jolla, CA, and Jupiter, FL, where its renowned scientists—including two Nobel laureates—work toward their next discoveries. The institute’s graduate program, which awards PhD degrees in biology and chemistry, ranks among the top ten of its kind in the nation. For more information, see


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