MT1-MMP (membrane type 1 matrix metalloproteinase) is a membrane-anchored MMP that can be shed to the extracellular milieu. In the present study we report the primary structure and activity of the major soluble form of MT1-MMP. MS analysis of the purified 50-kDa soluble MT1-MMP form shows that the enzyme extends from Tyr112 to Val524, indicating that formation of this species requires a proteolytic cleavage within the stem region. In agreement, deletion of the entire stem region of MT1-MMP inhibited shedding of the 50-kDa species. A recombinant 50-kDa species (Tyr112–Val524) expressed in cells exhibited enzymatic activity against pro-MMP-2 and galectin-3, and thus this species is a competent protease. The recombinant 50-kDa soluble form also decreased the level of surface-associated TIMP-2 (tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase 2) when administered to cells expressing wild-type membrane-anchored MT1-MMP, suggesting that ectodomain shedding of MT1-MMP can alter the MMP/TIMP balance on the cell surface. A ∼53-kDa species of MT1-MMP was also isolated from a non-detergent extract of human breast carcinoma tissue and was found to lack the cytosolic tail, as determined with specific MT1-MMP domain antibodies. Together, these data show that MT1-MMP ectodomain shedding is a physiological process that may broaden MT1-MMP activity to the pericellular space.

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