Marfan syndrome (MFS) is a highly variable genetic connective tissue disorder caused by mutations in the calcium binding extracellular matrix glycoprotein fibrillin-1. Patients with the most severe form of MFS (neonatal MFS; nMFS) tend to have mutations that cluster in an internal region of fibrillin-1 called the neonatal region. This region is predominantly composed of eight calcium-binding epidermal growth factor-like (cbEGF) domains, each of which binds one calcium ion and is stabilized by three highly conserved disulfide bonds. Crucially, calcium plays a fundamental role in stabilizing cbEGF domains. Perturbed calcium binding caused by cbEGF domain mutations is thus thought to be a central driver of MFS pathophysiology. Using steered molecular dynamics (SMD) simulations, we demonstrate that cbEGF domain calcium binding decreases under mechanical stress (i.e. cbEGF domains are mechanosensitive). We further demonstrate the disulfide bonds in cbEGF domains uniquely orchestrate protein unfolding by showing that MFS disulfide bond mutations markedly disrupt normal mechanosensitive calcium binding dynamics. These results point to a potential mechanosensitive mechanism for fibrillin-1 in regulating extracellular transforming growth factor beta (TGFB) bioavailability and microfibril integrity. Such mechanosensitive “smart” features may represent novel mechanisms for mechanical hemostasis regulation in extracellular matrix that are pathologically activated in MFS.
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