Thrombin is thought to stimulate responsive cells by cleaving cell-surface receptors coupled to intracellular second-messenger-generating enzymes via G-proteins. In order to understand this process better, we have examined the regulation of adenylate cyclase by thrombin in the megakaryoblastic HEL cell line and compared it with platelets. A notable difference was found. In HEL-cell membrane preparations, thrombin inhibited cyclic AMP (cAMP) formation by a pertussis-toxin-sensitive mechanism comparable with that observed in platelets. In contrast, when added to intact HEL cells, thrombin activated adenylate cyclase and caused an increase in cAMP formation synergistic with that produced by forskolin and prostaglandin I2. This increase, which was not seen with platelets, was accompanied by an increase in cAMP metabolism by phosphodiesterase. Like other responses to thrombin, the increase in cAMP formation required proteolytically active thrombin and was subject to homologous desensitization. An equivalent response could be evoked by the addition of a polypeptide, derived from the N-terminus of the thrombin receptor, that has been shown to activate the receptor. The effects of thrombin could not, however, be reproduced by the addition of phorbol ester and the Ca2+ ionophore, A23187, nor be prevented with inhibitors of arachidonate metabolism. Preincubation of the cells with adrenaline, which inhibited Gs-mediated activation of adenylate cyclase, or pertussis toxin, which inhibited phospholipase C activation, had no effect on thrombin-induced cAMP formation. These results suggest that thrombin can regulate cAMP formation by two different mechanisms. First, thrombin can inhibit adenylate cyclase in a Gi-dependent manner. This effect predominates in HEL-cell membrane preparations, as it does in platelets, but is not detectable when thrombin is added to intact HEL cells. Instead, in intact HEL cells thrombin activates adenylate cyclase. Although clearly receptor-mediated, this response does not appear to involve Gi, Gs, protein kinase C, eicosanoid formation or changes in the cytosolic Ca2+ concentration.

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