Macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF) is a multifunctional protein and a major mediator of innate immunity. Although X-ray crystallography revealed that MIF exists as a homotrimer, its oligomerization state in vivo and the factors governing its oligomerization and stability remain poorly understood. The C-terminal region of MIF is highly conserved and participates in several intramolecular interactions that suggest a role in modulating the stability and biochemical activity of MIF. To determine the importance of these interactions, point mutations (A48P, L46A), insertions (P 107) at the monomer-monomer interfaces, and C-terminal deletion (Δ110-114NSTFA and Δ105-114NVGWNNSTFA) variants were designed and their structural properties, thermodynamic stability, oligomerization state, catalytic activity and receptor binding were characterized using a battery of biophysical methods. The C-terminal deletion mutants ΔC5 huMIF1-109 and ΔC10 huMIF1-104 were enzymatically inactive and thermodynamically less stable than wild type MIF. Analytical ultracentrifugation studies demonstrate that both C-terminal mutants sediment as trimers and exhibit similar binding to CD74 as the wild type protein. Disrupting the conformation of the C-terminal region 105-114 and increasing its conformational flexibility through the insertion of a proline residue at position 107 was sufficient to reproduce the structural, biochemical and thermodynamic properties of the deletion mutants. P107 MIF forms an enzymatically inactive trimer and exhibits reduced thermodynamic stability relative to the wild type protein. To provide a rationale for the changes induced by these mutations at the molecular level, we also performed molecular dynamics simulations on these mutants in comparison to the wild type MIF. Together, our studies demonstrate that intersubunit interactions involving the C-terminal region 105-114, including a salt-bridge interaction between Arg73 of one monomer and the carboxy terminus of a neighboring monomer, play critical roles in modulating tertiary structure stabilization, enzymatic activity, and thermodynamic stability of MIF, but not its oligomerization state and receptor binding properties. Our results suggest that targeting the C-terminal region could provide new strategies for allosteric modulation of MIF enzymatic activity and the development of novel inhibitors of MIF tautomerase activity.
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