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p97 is a hexameric AAA+ adenosine triphosphatase (ATPase) that is an attractive target for cancer drug development. We report cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) structures for adenosine diphosphate (ADP)-bound, full-length, hexameric wild-type p97 in the presence and absence of an allosteric inhibitor at resolutions of 2.3 and 2.4 angstroms, respectively. We also report cryo-EM structures (at resolutions of ~3.3, 3.2, and 3.3 angstroms, respectively) for three distinct, coexisting functional states of p97 with occupancies of zero, one, or two molecules of adenosine 5'-O-(3-thiotriphosphate) (ATP??S) per protomer. A large corkscrew-like change in molecular architecture, coupled with upward displacement of the N-terminal domain, is observed only when ATP??S is bound to both the D1 and D2 domains of the protomer. These cryo-EM structures establish the sequence of nucleotide-driven structural changes in p97 at atomic resolution. They also enable elucidation of the binding mode of an allosteric small-molecule inhibitor to p97 and illustrate how inhibitor binding at the interface between the D1 and D2 domains prevents propagation of the conformational changes necessary for p97 function.

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OK, all this cryo-electron microscopy stuff is great, new protein structures, things that are huge, that can’t be crystallized, fine, fine: but when, the medicinal chemists in the audience ask, will we be able to use it for structure-based drug discovery?...