The relative amounts of the various forms of bioassayable insulin-like growth factors (IGF) isolated from human serum or serum fraction Cohn IV-1 depend on the purification procedure. With acid gel filtration or acid/ethanol extraction as the initial step, IGF-II (pI approximately 6.5) was the most abundant (40-70%) followed by somatomedin A (pI approximately 7.4; 15-23%), an acidic form of insulin-like activity (ILA pI 4.8) (13-21%) and IGF-I (pI approximately 8.5; 5-27%). If, however, pH 5.5 ion-exchange chromatography on SP-Sephadex was used prior to acid gel filtration, the acidic pI 4.8 form was the major (greater than 90%) species recovered and was accompanied by a quantitative loss of the other IGF species. This suggested a possible conversion of IGF-I, somatomedin A and/or IGF-II to the acidic ILA pI 4.8 form(s) during the SP-Sephadex procedure. Further experiments indicated that differences in the yields of ILA pI 4.8 were not due simply to differences in the initial pH conditions of the various methods (i.e. acid versus neutral), although exposure to pH 9.7 (a pH experienced during elution of IGF activity from the SP-Sephadex) did appear to play a role. The involvement of the carrier protein in the conversion process was tested by subjecting carrier-free IGF-I and IGF-II to the SP-Sephadex procedure. No conversion of the free forms to ILA pI 4.8 occurred. To examine the possible role of proteinase in the conversion of IGFs to ILA pI 4.8, SP-Sephadex chromatography was performed in the presence of a broad spectrum proteinase inhibitor. The IGF distribution pattern obtained closely resembled the ‘normal’ pattern seen with acid gel filtration, indicating that proteinase inactivation had prevented conversion to ILA pI 4.8. These data suggest that proteolytic conversion of IGF-I, somatomedin A and IGF-II to more acidic ILA pI 4.8 form(s) (i) occurs during SP-Sephadex chromatography, (ii) is not prevented simply by prior acid exposure, and (iii) takes place only when IGF-I and -II are in their high-Mr carrier-bound forms. Since IGF-I and IGF-II, although homologous, have unique amino acid sequences, the conversion of both IGFs implies that at least two acidic ILA forms exist. Nevertheless, because ILA pI 4.8 retains the full spectrum of IGF bioactivities in vitro, and significant quantities are present in normal human serum (21%), it would suggest that proteolytic conversion of IGF-I, somatomedin A and IGF-II to ILA pI 4.8 in vivo may be a physiologically significant event.

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