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Biochem J. 1997 May 15;324 ( Pt 1):263-72.

Identification of the cleavage sites in the alpha6A integrin subunit: structural requirements for cleavage and functional analysis of the uncleaved alpha6Abeta1 integrin.

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  • 1The Netherlands Cancer Institute, Division of Cell Biology, Plesmanlaan 121, 1066 CX Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


The alpha6A and alpha6B integrin subunits are proteolytically cleaved during biosynthesis into a heavy chain (120 kDa) that is disulphide-linked to one of two light chains (31 or 30 kDa). Analysis of the structure of the alpha6A subunit on the carcinoma cell line T24 and human platelets demonstrated that the two light chains of alpha6 are not differentially glycosylated products of one polypeptide. Rather they possess different polypeptide backbones, which presumably result from proteolytic cleavage at distinct sites in the alpha6 precursor. Mutations were introduced in the codons for the R876KKR879, E883K884, R890K891 and R898K899 sequences, the potential proteolytic cleavage sites, and wild-type and mutant alpha6A cDNAs were transfected into K562 cells. The mutant alpha6A integrin subunits were expressed in association with endogenous beta1 at levels comparable to that of wild-type alpha6Abeta1. A single alpha6 polypeptide chain (150 kDa) was precipitated from transfectants expressing alpha6A with mutations or deletions in the RKKR sequence. Mutations in the EK sequence yielded alpha6A subunits that were cleaved once into a heavy and a light chain, whereas alpha6A subunits with mutations in one of the two RK sequences were, like wild-type alpha6A, cleaved into one heavy and two light chains. Thus a change in the RKKR sequence prevents the cleavage of alpha6. The EK site is the secondary cleavage site, which is used only when the primary site (RKKR) is intact. Microsequencing of the N-termini of the two alpha6A light chains from platelets demonstrated that cleavage occurs after Arg879 and Lys884. Because alpha6(RKKG), alpha6(GKKR) and alpha6(RGGR) subunits were not cleaved it seems that both the arginine residues and the lysine residues are essential for cleavage of RKKR. alpha6A mutants with the RKKR sequence shifted to the EK site, in such a way that the position of the arginine residue after which cleavage occurs corresponds exactly to Lys884, were partly cleaved, whereas alpha6A mutants with the RKKR sequence shifted to other positions in the alpha6A subunit, including one in which it was shifted two residues farther than the EK cleavage site, were not cleaved. In addition, alpha6A mutants with an alpha5-like cleavage site, i.e. arginine, lysine and histidine residues at positions -1, -2 and -6, were not cleaved. Thus both an intact RKKR sequence and its proper position are essential. After activation by the anti-beta1 stimulatory monoclonal antibody TS2/16, both cleaved and uncleaved alpha6Abeta1 integrins bound to laminin-1. The phorbol ester PMA, which activates cleaved wild-type and mutant alpha6Abeta1, did not activate uncleaved alpha6Abeta1. Thus uncleaved alpha6Abeta1 is capable of ligand binding, but not of inside-out signalling. Our results suggest that cleavage of alpha6 is required to generate a proper conformation that enables the affinity modulation of the alpha6Abeta1 receptor by PMA.

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