But there are many histidines located throughout the chain. Like 26 letters of the alphabet form thousands of words, 20 essential amino acids form all proteins in the body. To identify which histidines might be guiding the amino acid chain to form the long VWF tubules, Sadler and his team looked to evolution.
"If a particular histidine is important in this process, it should be present in the same location across many species," Sadler says.
So Sadler's group, including the paper's first author, Luke T. Dang, who was an undergraduate student when he did this work, gathered the DNA sequences of VWF for humans, 19 other placental mammals, a marsupial, two birds, a reptile, an amphibian and five fish. Dang is now a graduate student at the University of Washington, Seattle.
"By lining up the sequences, we found a relatively small number of histidines that are in the same place across species," Sadler says. "It then becomes manageable to mutate them individually and see if that prevents von Willebrand Factor from assembling."
Out of the many histidines in the amino acid sequence of VWF, they found two that are important in sensing the pH change and guiding the building blocks to form chains in an acidic environment. When Dang replaced either of these histidines with an amino acid that provides no positive charge, the chain did not form. But when Dang forced a positive charge to always be present at these locations, the chain formed again.
"A positive charge at these positions is important for von Willebrand Factor to assemble properly so it can perform its biological function," says Sadler, also a hematologist who specializes in treating patients with blood clotting disorders. "Without VWF, you bleed."
According to Sadle
|Contact: Julia Evangelou Strait |
Washington University School of Medicine