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J Biol Chem. 1992 Jan 25;267(3):1786-91.

Functional and structural analysis of VLA-4 integrin alpha 4 subunit cleavage.

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Division of Tumor Virology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts 02115.


The cell surface heterodimer VLA-4 (alpha 4 beta 1), a member of the integrin family of adhesion receptors, is involved in both cell-extracellular matrix and cell-cell adhesion. Unlike any other integrin alpha subunit, the intact (150 kDa) alpha 4 subunit of VLA-4 can sometimes be cleaved into two noncovalently associated fragments (80 and 70 kDa). Using biosynthetic and mixing experiments, we found that human alpha 4 cleavage is a regulated, compartmentalized event, occurring soon after maturation of the beta 1-associated alpha 4 subunit. Cleavage of alpha 4, which is increased following T cell activation, has been suggested to correlate with altered VLA-4 functions. To address directly the functional importance of alpha 4 cleavage, we have studied VLA-4-mediated adhesion functions in cells expressing intact alpha 4 in comparison with cells expressing cleaved alpha 4. For this purpose, we first sequenced the N terminus of the endogenously produced 70-kDa alpha 4 fragment and identified the alpha 4 cleavage site between Lys557-Arg558 and Ser559. To abolish cleavage, we converted Arg558 to Leu or Lys557 to Gln by site-directed mutagenesis of the alpha 4 cDNA and then transfected both mutant and wild type alpha 4 cDNAs into VLA-4-negative K562 cells. Whereas transfection with wild type alpha 4 cDNA yielded predominantly cleaved alpha 4 subunit, the Leu558-alpha 4 yielded only intact alpha 4 subunit, and Gln557-alpha 4 yielded mostly intact alpha 4 subunit. Transfectants with the intact or the cleaved alpha 4 were equally capable of engaging in VLA-4-dependent adhesion to vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 and to the Hep II fragment of fibronectin (40 kDa) and aggregated equally well in response to anti-alpha 4 antibodies. Thus, cleavage of the alpha 4 subunit in these transfectants did not alter any of the known VLA-4-mediated adhesion functions.

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