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Mol Endocrinol. 2012 Jul;26(7):1167-78. doi: 10.1210/me.2012-1061. Epub 2012 May 16.

Characterization of follistatin-type domains and their contribution to myostatin and activin A antagonism.

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Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Cincinnati Medical Sciences Building, 231 Albert Sabin Way, Cincinnati, Ohio 45267, USA.


Follistatin (FST)-type proteins are important antagonists of some members of the large TGF-β family of cytokines. These include myostatin, an important negative regulator of muscle growth, and the closely related activin A, which is involved in many physiological functions, including maintenance of a normal reproductive axis. FST-type proteins, including FST and FST-like 3 (FSTL3), differentially inhibit various TGF-β family ligands by binding each ligand with two FST-type molecules. In this study, we sought to examine features that are important for ligand antagonism by FST-type proteins. Previous work has shown that a modified construct consisting of the FST N-terminal domain (ND) followed by two repeating follistatin domains (FSD), herein called FST ND-FSD1-FSD1, exhibits strong specificity for myostatin over activin A. Using cell-based assays, we show that FST ND-FSD1-FSD1 is unique in its specificity for myostatin as compared with similar constructs containing domains from FSTL3 and that the ND is critical to its activity. Furthermore, we demonstrate that FSD3 of FST provides affinity to ligand inhibition and confers resistance to perturbations in the ND and FSD2, likely through the interaction of FSD3 of one FST molecule with the ND of the other FST molecule. Additionally, our data suggest that this contact provides cooperativity to ligand antagonism. Cross-linking studies show that this interaction also potentiates formation of 1:2 ligand-FST complexes, whereas lack of FSD3 allows formation of 1:1 complexes. Altogether, these studies support that domain differences generate FST-type molecules that are each uniquely suited ligand antagonists.

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