Placental alkaline phosphatase (PLAP) is initially synthesized as a precursor (proPLAP) with a C-terminal extension. We constructed a recombinant cDNA which encodes a chimeric protein (alpha GL-PLAP) comprising rat alpha 2u-globulin (alpha GL) and the C-terminal extension of PLAP. Two molecular species (25 kDa and 22 kDa) were expressed in the COS-1 cell transfected with the cDNA for alpha GL-PLAP. Only the 22 kDa form was labelled with both [3H]stearic acid and [3H]ethanolamine. Upon digestion with phosphatidylinositol-specific phospholipase C the 22 kDa form was released into the medium, indicating that this form is anchored on the cell surface via glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI). A specific IgG raised against a C-terminal nonapeptide of proPLAP precipitated the 25 kDa form but not the 22 kDa form, suggesting that the 25 kDa form is a precursor retaining the C-terminal propeptide. When a mutant alpha GL-PLAP, in which the aspartic acid residue is replaced with tryptophan at a putative cleavage/attachment site, was expressed in COS-1 cells, the 25 kDa precursor was the only form found inside the cell and retained in the endoplasmic reticulum, as judged by immunofluorescence microscopy. In vitro translation programmed with mRNAs coding for the wild-type and mutant forms of alpha GL-PLAP demonstrated that the C-terminal propeptide was cleaved from the wild-type chimeric protein, but not from the mutant one. This gave rise to the 22 kDa form attached with a GPI anchor, suggesting that GPI is covalently linked to the aspartic acid residue (Asp159) of alpha GL-PLAP. Taken together, these results indicate that the C-terminal propeptide of PLAP functions as a signal to render alpha GL a GPI-linked membrane protein in vitro and in vivo in cultured cells, and that the chimeric protein constructed in this study may be useful for elucidating the mechanism underlying the cleavage of the propeptide and attachment of GPI, which occur in the endoplasmic reticulum.

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