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Am J Pathol. 2001 Jan;158(1):305-16.

Evidence that furin is an authentic transforming growth factor-beta1-converting enzyme.

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Immunology Division and Department of Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine, Université de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, Canada.


Transforming growth factor (TGF)-beta1 plays an essential role in cell growth and differentiation. It is also considered as a gatekeeper of immune homeostasis with gene disruption leading to autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. TGF-beta1 is produced as an inactive precursor polypeptide that can be efficiently secreted but correct proteolytic cleavage is an essential step for its activation. Assessment of the cleavage site has revealed a unique R-H-R-R sequence reminiscent of proprotein convertase (PC) recognition motifs and has previously demonstrated that this PC-like cleavage site is correctly cleaved by furin, a member of the PC family. Here we report that among PC members, furin more closely satisfies the requirements needed to fulfill the role of a genuine TGF-beta1 convertase. Even though six members of the PC family have the ability to cleave TGF-beta1, ectopic expression of alpha(1)-antitrypsin Portland (alpha(1)-AT-PDX), a potent furin inhibitor, blocked 80% of TGF-beta1 processing mediated by endogenous enzymes as demonstrated in an in vitro digestion assay. Genetic complementation of a furin-deficient LoVo cell line with the wild-type gene restores the production of mature and bioactivable TGF-beta1. Moreover, both furin and TGF-beta are coordinately expressed and regulated in vitro and in vivo in the hematopoietic and immune system, an important tissue target. These results demonstrate for the first time that furin is an authentic and adaptive TGF-beta1-converting enzyme whereas other members of the PC family might substitute or supplement furin activity. Our study advances our comprehension of the complexity of the TGF-beta system and should facilitate the development of therapeutically useful TGF-beta inhibitors.

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