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J Biol Chem. 2010 Dec 3;285(49):38621-9. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M110.144964. Epub 2010 Oct 2.

Thrombin inhibition by serpins disrupts exosite II.

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Department of Haematology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, Wellcome Trust/MRC Building, Cambridge CB2 0XY, United Kingdom.


Thrombin uses three principal sites, the active site, exosite I, and exosite II, for recognition of its many cofactors and substrates. It is synthesized in the zymogen form, prothrombin, and its activation at the end of the blood coagulation cascade results in the formation of the active site and exosite I and the exposure of exosite II. The physiological inhibitors of thrombin are all serpins, whose mechanism involves significant conformational change in both serpin and protease. It has been shown that the formation of the thrombin-serpin final complex disorders the active site and exosite I of thrombin, but exosite II is thought to remain functional. It has also been hypothesized that thrombin contains a receptor-binding site that is exposed upon final complex formation. The position of this cryptic site may depend on the regions of thrombin unfolded by serpin complexation. Here we investigate the conformation of thrombin in its final complex with serpins and find that in addition to exosite I, exosite II is also disordered, as reflected by a loss of affinity for the γ'-peptide of fibrinogen and for heparin and by susceptibility to limited proteolysis. This disordering of exosite II occurs for all tested natural thrombin-inhibiting serpins. Our data suggest a novel framework for understanding serpin function, especially with respect to thrombin inhibition, where serpins functionally "rezymogenize" proteases to ensure complete loss of activity and cofactor binding.

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