Background: The inhibitory leukocyte receptor PD-1 binds two ligands, PD-L1 and PD-L2.
Results: Nuclear magnetic resonance analysis and rigorous binding and thermodynamic measurements reveal the structure of, and the mode of ligand recognition by, PD-1.
Conclusion: PD-L1 and PD-L2 bind differently to PD-1 and much more weakly than expected.
Significance: Potent inhibitory signaling can be initiated by weakly interacting receptors.
PD-1, a receptor expressed by T cells, B cells, and monocytes, is a potent regulator of immune responses and a promising therapeutic target. The structure and interactions of human PD-1 are, however, incompletely characterized. We present the solution nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR)-based structure of the human PD-1 extracellular region and detailed analyses of its interactions with its ligands, PD-L1 and PD-L2. PD-1 has typical immunoglobulin superfamily topology but differs at the edge of the GFCC′ sheet, which is flexible and completely lacks a C″ strand. Changes in PD-1 backbone NMR signals induced by ligand binding suggest that, whereas binding is centered on the GFCC′ sheet, PD-1 is engaged by its two ligands differently and in ways incompletely explained by crystal structures of mouse PD-1·ligand complexes. The affinities of these interactions and that of PD-L1 with the costimulatory protein B7-1, measured using surface plasmon resonance, are significantly weaker than expected. The 3–4-fold greater affinity of PD-L2 versus PD-L1 for human PD-1 is principally due to the 3-fold smaller dissociation rate for PD-L2 binding. Isothermal titration calorimetry revealed that the PD-1/PD-L1 interaction is entropically driven, whereas PD-1/PD-L2 binding has a large enthalpic component. Mathematical simulations based on the biophysical data and quantitative expression data suggest an unexpectedly limited contribution of PD-L2 to PD-1 ligation during interactions of activated T cells with antigen-presenting cells. These findings provide a rigorous structural and biophysical framework for interpreting the important functions of PD-1 and reveal that potent inhibitory signaling can be initiated by weakly interacting receptors.