Experimental studies of protein–protein interactions are very much affected by whether the complexes are fully formed (strong, with nanomolar dissociation constants) or partially dissociated (weak, with micromolar dissociation constants). The functions of the complement proteins of innate immunity are governed by the weak interactions between the activated proteins and their regulators. Complement is effective in attacking pathogens, but not the human host, and imbalances in this process can lead to disease conditions. The inherent complexity in analysing complement interactions is augmented by the multivalency of its main regulator, CFH (complement factor H), for its physiological or pathophysiological ligands. The unravelling of such weak protein–protein or protein–ligand interactions requires a multidisciplinary approach. Synchrotron X-ray solution scattering and constrained modelling resulted in the determination of the solution structure of CFH and its self-associative properties, whereas AUC (analytical ultracentrifugation) identified the formation of much larger CFH multimers through the addition of metals such as zinc. The ligands of CFH, such as CRP (C-reactive protein), also undergo self-association. The combination of X-rays and AUC with SPR (surface plasmon resonance) proved to be essential to identify CRP self-association and revealed how CFH interacts with CRP. We show that CRP unexpectedly binds to CFH at two non-contiguous sites and explain its relevance to age-related macular degeneration.

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