The molecular mechanisms of αvβ3 integrin affinity regulation have important biological implications in tumour development, wound repair and angiogenesis. We expressed, purified and characterized recombinant forms of human αvβ3 (r-αvβ3) and compared the activation state of these with αvβ3 in its cellular environment. The ligand specificity and selectivity of recombinant full-length and double transmembrane truncations of r-αvβ3 cloned in BacPAK6 vectors and expressed in Sf9 and High Five insect cells were compared with those of native placental αvβ3 and the receptor in situ on the cell surface. r-αvβ3 integrins were purified by affinity chromatography from detergent extracts of cells (full-length), and from the culture medium of cells expressing double-truncated r-αvβ3. r-αvβ3 had the same epitopes, ligand-binding specificities, bivalent cation requirements and susceptibility to RGD-containing peptides as native αvβ3. On M21-L4 melanoma cells, αvβ3 mediated binding to vitronectin, but not to fibrinogen unless activated with Mn2+. Non-activated αIIbβ3 integrin as control in M21-L-IIb cells had the opposite profile, mediating binding to fibrinogen, but not to vitronectin unless activated with Mn2+. Thus these receptors had moderate to low ligand affinity. In marked contrast, purified αvβ3 receptors, with or without transmembrane and cytoplasmic domains, were constitutively of high affinity and able to bind strongly to vitronectin, fibronectin and fibrinogen under physiological conditions. Our data suggest that, in contrast with the positive regulation of αIIbβ3 in situ, intracellular controls lower the affinity of αvβ3, and the cytoplasmic domains may act as a target for negative regulators of αvβ3 activity.

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