ARTS (Sept4_i2) is a mitochondrial pro-apoptotic protein that functions as a tumor suppressor. Its expression is significantly reduced in leukemia and lymphoma patients. ARTS binds and inhibits XIAP (X-linked Inhibitor of Apoptosis protein) by interacting with its Bir3 domain. ARTS promotes degradation of XIAP through the proteasome pathway. By doing so, ARTS removes XIAP inhibition of caspases and enables apoptosis to proceed. ARTS contains 27 unique residues in its C-terminal domain (CTD, residues 248-274) which are important for XIAP binding. Here we characterized the molecular details of this interaction. Biophysical and computational methods were used to show that the ARTS CTD is intrinsically disordered under physiological conditions. Direct binding of ARTS CTD to Bir3 was demonstrated using NMR and fluorescence spectroscopy. The Bir3 interacting region in ARTS CTD was mapped to ARTS residues 266-274, which are the nine C-terminal residues in the protein. Alanine scan of ARTS 266-274 showed the importance of several residues for Bir3 binding, with His268 and Cys273 contributing the most. Adding a reducing agent prevented binding to Bir3. A dimer of ARTS 266-274 formed by oxidation of the Cys residues into a disulfide bond bound with similar affinity and was probably required for the interaction with Bir3. The detailed analysis of the ARTS - Bir3 interaction provides the basis for setting it as a target for anti cancer drug design: It will enable the development of compounds that mimic ARTS CTD, remove IAPs inhibition of caspases, and thereby induce apoptosis.
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