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J Mol Biol. 2008 Jun 6;379(3):428-42. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2008.03.070. Epub 2008 Apr 7.

dlk1 specifically interacts with insulin-like growth factor binding protein 1 to modulate adipogenesis of 3T3-L1 cells.

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Department of Inorganic and Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry, Medical School, Regional Center for Biomedical Research, University of Castilla-La Mancha, Avenida de Almansa 14, 02006 Albacete, Spain.


dlk1 is an epidermal growth factor (EGF)-like homeotic protein containing an intracellular region, a single transmembrane domain, and an extracellular region possessing six EGF-like repeats and a protease-target sequence. dlk1 functions as a modulator of adipogenesis, and other differentiation processes. The molecular mechanisms by which dlk1 regulates these processes are unclear. It has been reported that different Dlk1 mRNA spliced variants, encoding for isoforms possessing the protease-target sequence or not, determine the production of membrane-associated or soluble, secreted extracellular dlk1 proteins that appear to affect adipogenesis of 3T3-L1 cells differently. In particular, only soluble variants inhibit this process. Some recent evidence suggest that dlk1 may modulate extracellular stimuli inducing differentiation. Thus, an enforced decrease of Dlk1 expression in BALB/c 3T3 cells, which results in an increase of their adipogenic potential in response to insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), modifies the kinetics and levels of activation of ERK1/2 triggered by it. In this work, we identified a strong and specific interaction between the protease-target dlk1 region and the non-IGF binding region of IGF binding protein 1 (IGFBP1), a protein that binds to IGFs and modulates their action. We also observed that the increased adipogenic potential of 3T3-L1 cells caused by diminishing Dlk1 expression through transfection with an antisense Dlk1 expression construct was inhibited by the presence of IGFBP1 in the differentiation medium. On the other hand, the presence of IGFBP1 in the culture medium slightly increased the adipogenic potential of control 3T3-L1 cells, expressing regular levels of Dlk1. These data suggest that membrane dlk1 variants bind to extracellular IGFBP1/IGF-1 complexes, which may favor the release of IGF-1 and increase the local concentration of free IGF-1 that can enhance IGF receptor signaling, leading to adipogenesis.

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