University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006
Structure and function of GDNF receptor alpha splice variants
Doctoral dissertation, December 2006.
The growth factors of the glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) family consisting of GDNF, neurturin (NRTN), artemin (ARTN) and persephin (PSPN), are involved in the development, differentiation and maintenance of many types of neurons. They also have important functions outside the nervous system in the development of kidney, testis and thyroid gland. Each of these GFLs preferentially binds to one of the glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI)-anchored GDNF family receptors α (GFRα). GDNF binds to GFRα1, NRTN to GFRα2, ARTN to GFRα3 and PSPN to GFRα4. The GFLs in the complex with their cognate GFRα receptors all bind to and signal through the receptor tyrosine kinase RET. Alternative splicing of the mouse GFRα4 gene yields three splice isoforms. These had been described as putative GPI-anchored, transmembrane and soluble forms. My goal was to characterise the function of the different forms of mouse GFRα4.
I firstly found that the putative GPI-anchored GFRα4 (GFRα4-GPI) is glycosylated, membrane-bound, GPI-anchored and interacts with PSPN and RET. We also showed that mouse GFRα4-GPI mediates PSPN-induced phosphorylation of RET, promotes PSPN-dependent neuronal differentiation of the rat pheochromocytoma cell line PC6-3 and PSPN-dependent survival of cerebellar granule neurons (CGN). However, although this receptor can mediate PSPN-signalling and activate RET, GFRα4-GPI does not recruit RET into lipid rafts. The recruitment of RET into lipid rafts has previously been thought to be a crucial event for GDNF- and GFL-mediated signalling via RET.
I secondly demonstrated that the putative transmembrane GFRα4 (GFRα4-TM) is indeed a real transmembrane GFRα4 protein. Although it has a weak binding capacity for PSPN, it can not mediate PSPN-dependent phosphorylation of RET, neuronal differentiation or survival. These data show that GFRα4-TM is inactive as a receptor for PSPN. Surprisingly, GFRα4-TM can negatively regulate PSPN-mediated signalling via GFRα4-GPI. GFRα4-TM interacts with GFRα4-GPI and blocks PSPN-induced phosphorylation of RET, neuronal differentiation as well as survival. Taken together, our data show that GFRα4-TM may act as a dominant negative inhibitor of PSPN-mediated signaling.
The most exciting part of my work was the finding that the putative soluble GFRα4 (GFRα4-sol) can form homodimers and function as an agonist of the RET receptor. In the absence of PSPN, GFRα4-sol can promote the phosphorylation of RET, trigger the activation of the PI-3K/AKT pathway, induce neuronal differentiation and support the survival of CGN. Our findings are in line with a recent publication showing the GFRα4-sol might contribute to the inherited cancer syndrome multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2. Our data provide an explanation to how GFRα4-sol may cause or modify the disease.
Mammalian GFRα4 receptors all lack the first Cys-rich domain which is present in other GFRα receptors. In the final part of my work I have studied the function of this particular domain. I created a truncated GFRα1 construct lacking the first Cys-rich domain. Using binding assays in both cellular and cell-free systems, phosphorylation assays with RET, as well as neurite outgrowth assays, we found that the first Cys-rich domain contributes to an optimal function of GFRα1, by stabilizing the interaction between GDNF and GFRα1.
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© University of Helsinki 2006
Last updated 02.11.2006