The BMPs (bone morphogenetic proteins) and the GDFs (growth and differentiation factors) together form a single family of cystine-knot cytokines, sharing the characteristic fold of the TGFβ (transforming growth factor-β) superfamily. Besides the ability to induce bone formation, which gave the BMPs their name, the BMP/GDFs display morphogenetic activities in the development of a wide range of tissues. BMP/GDF homo- and hetero-dimers interact with combinations of type I and type II receptor dimers to produce multiple possible signalling complexes, leading to the activation of one of two competing sets of SMAD transcription factors. BMP/GDFs have highly specific and localized functions. These are regulated in a number of ways, including the developmental restriction of BMP/GDF expression and through the secretion of several specific BMP antagonist proteins that bind with high affinity to the cytokines. Curiously, a number of these antagonists are also members of the TGF-β superfamily. Finally a number of both the BMP/GDFs and their antagonists interact with the heparan sulphate side chains of cell-surface and extracellular-matrix proteoglycans.

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