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CD95 (Fas, APO-1, TNFRSF6) is a widely expressed single-pass transmembrane protein that is implicated in cell death, inflammatory response, proliferation and cell migration. CD95 ligand (CD95L, FasL, TNFSF6), is a potent apoptotic inducer in the membrane form but not when cleaved into soluble CD95L (sCD95L). Here, we aimed at understanding the relation between ligand-receptor multimerization and receptor activation by correlating the kinetics of ligand binding, receptor oligomerization, FADD (FAS-Associated via Death Domain) recruitment and caspase-8 activation inside living cells. Using single molecule localization microscopy and Förster resonance energy transfer imaging we show that the majority of CD95 receptors on the plasma membrane are monomeric at rest. This was confirmed functionally as the wild-type receptor is not blocked by a receptor mutant that cannot bind ligand. Moreover, using time-resolved fluorescence imaging approaches we demonstrated that receptor multimerization follows instantaneously ligand binding, whereas FADD recruitment is delayed. This process can explain the typical delay time seen with caspase-8 activity reporters. Finally, the low activity of sCD95L, which was caused by inefficient FADD recruitment, was not explained by the low avidity for the receptor but by a receptor clustering mechanism that was different from the one induced by the strong apoptosis inducer IZ-sCD95L. Our results reveal that receptor activation is modulated by the capacity of its ligand to trimerize it.
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