The single-domain human trefoil proteins [pNR-2/pS2 and human intestinal trefoil factor (hITF)] have seven cysteine residues, of which six are involved in maintaining the structure of the trefoil domain. The seventh does not form part of the trefoil domain and is located three residues from the C-terminus. The ability of the pNR-2/pS2 single trefoil domain protein to dimerize was examined by using recombinant protein with either a cysteine or a serine residue at this position by equilibrium ultracentrifugation, laser-assisted desorption MS, gel filtration and PAGE. pNR-2/pS2 Cys58 formed dimers, whereas pNR-2/pS2 Ser58 did not. Experiments in which the dimer was treated with thiol agents demonstrated that the dimer was linked via a disulphide bond and that the intermolecular disulphide bond was more susceptible to reduction than the intramolecular disulphide bonds. To examine whether dimeric pNR-2/pS2 was secreted by oestrogen-responsive breast cancer cells, which are known to express pNR-2/pS2 mRNA, conditioned medium was separated on non-denaturing polyacrylamide gels, transferred to PVDF membrane and reacted with antiserum against pNR-2/pS2. Monomeric and dimeric pNR-2/pS2 were detected but the majority of the protein reactivity was associated with a larger protein. Treatment of this protein with thiol agents suggested that it is an oligomer containing pNR-2/pS2 linked to another protein by a disulphide bond. These studies suggest that the biological action of pNR-2/pS2 single-domain trefoil protein might involve the formation of homodimers or oligomers with other proteins.

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