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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 Apr 10;98(8):4379-84.

Ligand-independent oligomerization of cell-surface erythropoietin receptor is mediated by the transmembrane domain.

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Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Nine Cambridge Center, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA.


Binding of erythropoietin (Epo) to the Epo receptor (EpoR) is crucial for production of mature red cells. Although it is well established that the Epo-bound EpoR is a dimer, it is not clear whether, in the absence of ligand, the intact EpoR is a monomer or oligomer. Using antibody-mediated immunofluorescence copatching (oligomerizing) of epitope-tagged receptors at the surface of live cells, we show herein that a major fraction of the full-length murine EpoR exists as preformed dimers/oligomers in BOSC cells, which are human embryo kidney 293T-derived cells. This observed oligomerization is specific because, under the same conditions, epitope-tagged EpoR did not oligomerize with several other tagged receptors (thrombopoietin receptor, transforming growth factor beta receptor type II, or prolactin receptor). Strikingly, the EpoR transmembrane (TM) domain but not the extracellular or intracellular domains enabled the prolactin receptor to copatch with EpoR. Preformed EpoR oligomers are not constitutively active and Epo binding was required to induce signaling. In contrast to tyrosine kinase receptors (e.g., insulin receptor), which cannot signal when their TM domain is replaced by the strongly dimerizing TM domain of glycophorin A, the EpoR could tolerate the replacement of its TM domain with that of glycophorin A and retained signaling. We propose a model in which TM domain-induced dimerization maintains unliganded EpoR in an inactive state that can readily be switched to an active state by physiologic levels of Epo.

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