Blood 2011 Feb 8;117(5):1507-15. Epub 2010 Dec 8.
Molecular Cancer Biology Program, Research Programs Unit, Haartman Institute, Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland and Helsinki University Central Hospital, Biomedicum Helsinki, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland.
Vascular endothelial growth factors (VEGFs) and their tyrosine kinase receptors (VEGFR-1-3) are central mediators of angiogenesis and lymphangiogenesis. VEGFR-3 ligands VEGF-C and VEGF-D are produced as precursor proteins with long N- and C-terminal propeptides and show enhanced VEGFR-2 and VEGFR-3 binding on proteolytic removal of the propeptides. Two different proteolytic cleavage sites have been reported in the VEGF-D N-terminus. We report here the crystal structure of the human VEGF-D Cys117Ala mutant at 2.9 Å resolution. Comparison of the VEGF-D and VEGF-C structures shows similar extended N-terminal helices, conserved overall folds, and VEGFR-2 interacting residues. Consistent with this, the affinity and the thermodynamic parameters for VEGFR-2 binding are very similar. In comparison with VEGF-C structures, however, the VEGF-D N-terminal helix was extended by 2 more turns because of a better resolution. Both receptor binding and functional assays of N-terminally truncated VEGF-D polypeptides indicated that the residues between the reported proteolytic cleavage sites are important for VEGF-D binding and activation of VEGFR-3, but not of VEGFR-2. Thus, we define here a VEGFR-2-specific form of VEGF-D that is angiogenic but not lymphangiogenic. These results provide important new insights into VEGF-D structure and function.