Structure of a heparin-linked biologically active dimer of fibroblast growth factor


The fibroblast growth factors (FGFs) form a large family of structurally related, multifunctional proteins that regulate various biological responses1. They mediate cellular functions by binding to transmembrane FGF receptors2, which are protein tyrosine kinases. FGF receptors are activated by oligomerization3, and both this activation and FGF-stimulated biological responses require heparin-like molecules as well as FGF4. Heparins are linear anionic polysaccharide chains; they are typically heterogeneously sulphated on alternating L-iduronic and D-glucosamino sugars, and are nearly ubiquitous in animal tissues as heparan sulphate proteoglycans on cell surfaces and in the extracellular matrix. Although several crystal structures have been described for FGF molecules in complexes with heparin-like sugars5,6,7, the nature of a biologically active complex has been unknown until now. Here we describe the X-ray crystal structure, at 2.9 Å resolution, of a biologically active dimer of human acidic FGF in a complex with a fully sulphated, homogeneous heparin decassacharide. The dimerization of heparin-linked acidic FGF observed here is an elegant mechanism for the modulation of signalling through combinatorial homodimerization and heterodimerization of the 12 known members of the FGF family.

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Figure 1: Biological activity of aFGF–heparin and aFGF–decasaccharide complexes.
Figure 2: Structures of heparin-linked aFGF dimers.
Figure 3: ad, Details of hydrogen bonding between aFGF protomers (ribbons) and heparin (ball-and-stick diagrams) in aFGF dimers.


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We thank C. Bingman, M. Cuff, L. Shapiro, H. Yamaguchi and C. Ogata for help in data collection; J. Arnez, K. Drickamer, B. Honig, S. Hubbard, J. Passner, M. Quesenberry, L. Shapiro, and H. Yamaguchi for discussions; P. Östergaard (Novo Nordisk) for heparin oligosaccharides; M. Gawinowicz (HHMI Columbia) for amino-acid analysis; D. King for electrospray mass spectrometry; and C. Turgeon and J. Hansen for analytical ultracentrifugation. This work was supported in part by a grant from the NIH. Beamline X4A at the National Synchrotron Light Source, a DOE faciity, is supported by the HHMI.

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Correspondence to Wayne A. Hendrickson.

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DiGabriele, A., Lax, I., Chen, D. et al. Structure of a heparin-linked biologically active dimer of fibroblast growth factor. Nature 393, 812–817 (1998).

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