Exp Cell Res 2011 Apr 21;317(7):976-93. Epub 2010 Dec 21.
Department of Protein Science, Amgen Inc, Seattle, WA 98119, USA.
Interleukin-31 (IL-31) is a member of the four helical-bundle gp130/IL-6 cytokine family. Despite its implicated roles in inflammatory diseases, the biosynthetic processes of IL-31 have been poorly investigated. A detailed understanding of IL-31 biosynthesis and the nature of ligand-receptor interactions can provide insights into effective strategies for the design of therapeutic approaches. By using various heterologous protein expression systems, we demonstrated that murine IL-31 was secreted as inter-molecularly disulfide-bonded covalent aggregates. Covalently aggregated IL-31 appeared while trafficking in the secretory pathway, but was not actively retained in the ER. The aggregate formation was not caused by a dysfunctional ER quality control mechanism or an intrinsic limitation in protein folding capacity. Furthermore, secreted IL-31 aggregates were part of a large complex composed of various pleiotropic secretory factors and immune-stimulators. The extent and the heterogeneous nature of aggregates may imply that IL-31 was erroneously folded, but it was capable of signaling through cognate receptors. Mutagenesis revealed the promiscuity of all five cysteines in inter-molecular disulfide formation with components of the hetero-aggregates, but no cysteine was required for IL-31 secretion itself. Our present study not only illustrated various functions that cysteines perform during IL-31 biosynthesis and secretion, but also highlighted their potential roles in cytokine effector functions.
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