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Biochemistry. 2001 Apr 10;40(14):4359-71.

Enhanced potency of human Sonic hedgehog by hydrophobic modification.

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Biogen, Inc., 14 Cambridge Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02142, USA.


Post-translational modifications of the developmental signaling protein Sonic hedgehog (Shh) by a long-chain fatty acid at the N-terminus and cholesterol at the C-terminus greatly activate the protein in a cell-based signaling assay. To investigate the structural determinants of this activation phenomenon, hydrophobic and hydrophilic moieties have been introduced by chemical and mutagenic methods to the soluble N-terminal signaling domain of Shh and tested in both in vitro and in vivo assays. A wide variety of hydrophobic modifications increased the potency of Shh when added at the N-terminus of the protein, ranging from long-chain fatty acids to hydrophobic amino acids, with EC(50) values from 99 nM for the unmodified protein to 0.6 nM for the myristoylated form. The N-myristoylated Shh was as active as the natural form having both N- and C-terminal modifications. The degree of activation appears to correlate with the hydrophobicity of the modification rather than any specific chemical feature of the adduct; moreover, substitution with hydrophilic moieties decreased activity. Hydrophobic modifications at the C-terminus of Shh resulted in only a 2-3-fold increase in activity, and no activation was found with hydrophobic modification at other surface positions. The N-terminal modifications did not appear to alter the binding affinity of the Shh protein for the transfected receptor protein, Patched, and had no apparent effect on structure as measured by circular dichroism, thermal denaturation, and size determination. Activation of Desert Hh through modification of its N-terminus was also observed, suggesting that this is a common feature of Hh proteins.

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