Urokinase (uPA) has the striking ability to cleave its receptor, uPAR, thereby inactivating the binding potential of this molecule. Here we demonstrate that the glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI) anchor of uPAR, which is attached to the third domain, is an important determinant in governing this reaction, even though the actual cleavage occurs between the first and second domains. Purified full-length GPI-anchored uPAR (GPI-uPAR) proved much more susceptible to uPA-mediated cleavage than recombinant truncated soluble uPAR (suPAR), which lacks the glycolipid anchor. This was not a general difference in proteolytic susceptibility since GPI-uPAR and suPAR were cleaved with equal efficiency by plasmin. Since the amino acid sequences of GPI-uPAR and suPAR are identical except for the C-terminal truncation, the different cleavage patterns suggest that the two uPAR variants differ in the conformation or the flexibility of the linker region between domains 1 and 2. This was supported by the fact that an antibody to the peptide AVTYSRSRYLE, amino acids 84–94 in the linker region, recognizes GPI-uPAR but not suPAR. This difference in the linker region is thus caused by a difference in a remote hydrophobic region. In accordance with this model, when the hydrophobic lipid moiety was removed from the glycolipid anchor by phospholipase C, low concentrations of uPA could no longer cleave the modified GPI-uPAR and the reactivity to the peptide antibody was greatly decreased. Naturally occurring suPAR, purified from plasma, was found to have a similar resistance to uPA cleavage as phospholipase C-treated GPI-uPAR and recombinant suPAR.

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