The NADPH oxidase of professional phagocytes is a crucial component of the innate immune response due to its fundamental role in the production of reactive oxygen species that act as powerful microbicidal agents. The activity of this multi-protein enzyme is dependent on the regulated assembly of the six enzyme subunits at the membrane where oxygen is reduced to superoxide anions. In the resting state, four of the enzyme subunits are maintained in the cytosol, either through auto-inhibitory interactions or through complex formation with accessory proteins that are not part of the active enzyme complex. Multiple inputs are required to disrupt these inhibitory interactions and allow translocation to the membrane and association with the integral membrane components. Protein interaction modules are key regulators of NADPH oxidase assembly, and the protein-protein interactions mediated via these domains have been the target of numerous studies. Many models have been put forward to describe the intricate network of reversible protein interactions that regulate the activity of this enzyme, but an all-encompassing model has so far been elusive. An important step towards an understanding of the molecular basis of NADPH oxidase assembly and activity has been the recent solution of the three-dimensional structures of some of the oxidase components. We will discuss these structures in the present review and attempt to reconcile some of the conflicting models on the basis of the structural information available.
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