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Keywords:

  • RLX2;
  • RLX3;
  • INSL3;
  • INSL5;
  • structure–function;
  • RXFP1;
  • RXFP2;
  • RXFP3;
  • binding and activation

The availability of improved peptide synthesis procedures, convenient and sensitive assays for receptor binding and activation, together with advances in methods for structural characterization, has enabled the key structural features of the relaxin family of peptides responsible for biological activity to be defined. Not surprisingly, despite the similarities in primary amino acid sequences, different structural domains and residues are involved in the binding and activation at the four known relaxin family peptide receptors (RXFP1 to -4). Most of our knowledge on structure and function relates to the relaxin–RXFP1, insulin-like peptide 3 (INSL3)–RXFP2, and relaxin-3–RXFP3 systems, with information accumulating not only on the critical ligand structures but also the domains and residues on the receptor itself that are required for specificity and activation. These studies provide the framework for the design of small-molecule mimetics. While the B-chain cassette R-X-X-X-R-X-X-I, defined by Büllesbach and Schwabe, is essential for binding and activation of RXFP1, it is now recognized that the A chain, particularly the N-terminal domain, is also critical for receptor specificity. Studies of the various endogenous ligand–receptor pairs have led to the design of potent and specific agonists and antagonists. The relaxin-3 A chain–INSL5 B chain chimeric peptide and analogs with C-terminal truncations of the B chain, developed by Liu and colleagues at Johnson & Johnson, have provided selective agonist and antagonist peptides that are proving invaluable for in vivo studies of the relaxin-3–RXFP3 system.