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Mol Biol Cell. 2000 Mar;11(3):1023-35.

Bone morphogenetic protein receptor complexes on the surface of live cells: a new oligomerization mode for serine/threonine kinase receptors.

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  • 1Department of Neurobiochemistry, The George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv 69978, Israel.


The bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) play important roles in embryogenesis and normal cell growth. The BMP receptors belong to the family of serine/threonine kinase receptors, whose activation has been investigated intensively for the transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) receptor subfamily. However, the interactions between the BMP receptors, the composition of the active receptor complex, and the role of the ligand in its formation have not yet been investigated and were usually assumed to follow the same pattern as the TGF-beta receptors. Here we demonstrate that the oligomerization pattern of the BMP receptors is different and is more flexible and susceptible to modulation by ligand. Using several complementary approaches, we investigated the formation of homomeric and heteromeric complexes between the two known BMP type I receptors (BR-Ia and BR-Ib) and the BMP type II receptor (BR-II). Coimmunoprecipitation studies detected the formation of heteromeric and homomeric complexes among all the BMP receptor types even in the absence of ligand. These complexes were also detected at the cell surface after BMP-2 binding and cross-linking. Using antibody-mediated immunofluorescence copatching of epitope-tagged receptors, we provide evidence in live cells for preexisting heteromeric (BR-II/BR-Ia and BR-II/BR-Ib) and homomeric (BR-II/BR-II, BR-Ia/ BR-Ia, BR-Ib/ BR-Ib, and also BR-Ia/ BR-Ib) oligomers in the absence of ligand. BMP-2 binding significantly increased hetero- and homo-oligomerization (except for the BR-II homo-oligomer, which binds ligand poorly in the absence of BR-I). In contrast to previous observations on TGF-beta receptors, which were found to be fully homodimeric in the absence of ligand, the BMP receptors show a much more flexible oligomerization pattern. This novel feature in the oligomerization mode of the BMP receptors allows higher variety and flexibility in their responses to various ligands as compared with the TGF-beta receptors.

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