The physiochemical properties of the purified cytoplasmic domain of the epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor, its self-phosphorylation and peptide phosphorylation activities, and its activation by ammonium sulphate have been studied. Highly efficient purification procedures for the isolation of the recombinant cytoplasmic domain (Met644-Ala1186) of the EGF receptor, expressed in the baculovirus/insect cell system, are described. Physicochemical characterization of the protein included investigation of its isoelectric and hydrodynamic properties, stability, oligomeric status, and secondary structure using far-u.v. circular dichroism. The recombinant protein was not recognized by anti-phosphotyrosine antibodies, unless first self-phosphorylated in vitro. Tryptic phosphopeptide maps of self-phosphorylated recombinant cytoplasmic domain and the EGF-stimulated A431-membrane receptor were very similar, suggesting that the recombinant had similar self-phosphorylation capacity and specificity. The preparations were characterized by high specific activity towards peptide tyrosine phosphorylation. Although the cytoplasmic domain was isolated as a homogeneously monomeric protein, storage at 4 degrees C led to slow, spontaneous aggregation with reduction in specific activity. Both high activity and monomeric state were maintained by storage below 0 degree C. The dependence of the initial rate of self-phosphorylation on protein concentration was consistent with cross-phosphorylation but not with the known oligomerization-induced activation of holoreceptor. The peptide phosphorylation activity was stimulated by Mn2+, Mg2+ and (NH4)2SO4 at high concentrations. The substrate specificity of (NH4)2SO4 activation was studied using synthetic peptides. Self-phosphorylation was inhibited by (NH4)2SO4 in the range 0-0.25 M but activated at 1.0-1.5 M, possibly as a result of ionic and hydrophobic protein interactions respectively. Phosphopeptide maps of cytoplasmic domain phosphorylated in the presence of high (NH4)2SO4 showed that the protein was more extensively phosphorylated than in the absence of salt, or than the native receptor. Far-u.v. circular-dichroism spectra of the cytoplasmic domain changed dramatically at 1 M (NH4)2SO4, raising the possibility that (NH4)2SO4 activates the kinase catalytic domain by inducing conformational changes.

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