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EMBO J. 1998 Jul 15;17(14):4056-65.

Smad proteins exist as monomers in vivo and undergo homo- and hetero-oligomerization upon activation by serine/threonine kinase receptors.

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Department of Biochemistry, The Cancer Institute, Japanese Foundation for Cancer Research (JFCR), and Research for the Future Program, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, 1-37-1 Kami-ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo 170-8455, Japan.


Smad proteins are signal transducers for the members of the transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) superfamily. Here we show that, in the absence TGF-beta stimulation, Smads exist as monomers in vivo. Smad2 and Smad3 form homo-oligomers upon phosphorylation by the constitutively active TGF-beta type I receptor, and this oligomerization does not require Smad4. Major portions of Smad4, Smad6 and Smad7 are also present as monomers in vivo. Analysis using a cross-linking reagent suggested that the Smad2 oligomer induced by receptor activation is a trimer. Studies by gel chromatography demonstrated that the Smad2-Smad4 heteromer is not larger than the Smad2 homomer. Moreover, overexpression of Smad4 prevented Smad2 from forming a homo-oligomer. These findings suggest that Smad2 may form a homotrimer, or heterotrimers with Smad4, which are probably composed of two and one, or one and two molecules of Smad2 and Smad4, respectively, depending on the amount of each protein. Gel-mobility shift assay revealed that the Smad3 homomer and Smad3-Smad4 heteromer constitute DNA-binding complexes. Transition of the Smad proteins from monomers to oligomers is thus a critical event in the signal transduction of the TGF-beta superfamily members.

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