Integrins are cell-surface heterodimers formed by the association of one alpha- and one beta-subunit. Glycoprotein IIIa (GPIIIa or beta 3 subunit) is the common beta-subunit of the beta 3 subfamily of integrins, which, when associated with glycoprotein IIb (GPIIb), constitutes the receptor for fibrinogen and other adhesive proteins at the platelet surface (the GPIIb-IIIa complex) and, when associated with the alpha v-subunit, constitutes the vitronectin receptor present in several cell types. Protein chemical analysis of GPIIIa allows us to define the following structural domains: the cysteine-rich and proteinase-resistant N-terminal domain (GPIIIa 1-62); the adhesive-protein-binding domain (GPIIIa 101-422); the cysteine-rich and proteinase-resistant core (GPIIIa 423-622); and the C-terminal domain comprising an extracellular subdomain (GPIIIa 623-692), a transmembrane subdomain (GPIIIa 693-721), and a cytoplasmic subdomain (GPIIIa 722-762). We also assign unambiguously the disulphide bonds within the N-terminal, the fibrinogen-binding and the C-terminal domains, and the two long-range disulphide bonds which join the N-terminus to the proteinase-resistant core (Cys5-Cys435) and the fibrinogen-binding domain to the extracellular side of the C-terminal domain (Cys406-Cys655). In addition, we propose three alternative models for the arrangement of the disulphide bonds within the core and of the disulphide bonds joining the core to the extracellular side of the C-terminal domain, consistent with our experimental findings, favouring temporarily that which imposes less steric hindrance for the formation of these disulphide bonds. On the basis of this information and on the highly conserved overall structure observed in the beta-subunits of the integrin family known so far, except in beta 4, we propose to extend the cysteine-pairing pattern and the structural domains outlined here for GPIIIa to all the beta-subunits of the integrin family.

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