Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Evolution provides clue to blood clotting

A simple cut to the skin unleashes a complex cascade of chemistry to stem the flow of blood. Now, scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have used evolutionary clues to reveal how a key clotting protein assembles. The finding sheds new light on common bleeding disorders.

The long tube-shaped protein with a vital role in blood clotting is called von Willebrand Factor (VWF). Made in cells that form the inner lining of blood vessels, VWF circulates in the blood seeking out sites of injury. When it finds them, its helical tube unfurls to catch platelets and form blood clots. Defects in VWF cause von Willebrand Disease, the most common inherited bleeding disorder in humans.

“The challenge for the cell is how to build this massive protein without clogging the machinery,” says J. Evan Sadler, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and senior author of the study published in July in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. “The cell has solved this problem by making the assembly of von Willebrand Factor dependent on its location in the cell.”

And VWF knows its location in a cell because pH, a measure of how acidic or basic a liquid is, varies from one cellular structure to the next. On a scale of 0 to 14, pure water has a neutral pH of about 7; human blood is slightly basic with a pH of 7.4.

In a cell, the building blocks of VWF form in an area with the same pH as blood. Then these building blocks are shipped to an area that is more acidic. Called the Golgi, this cellular compartment is known for its role in packaging proteins and has a pH of about 6.2. In this acidic environment, the building blocks of VWF are able to form long chains and fold into its signature helical tubules. But how this assembly process works has not been well understood.

From basic biophysics, Sadler and his colleagues knew that only one amino acid in the long protein chain is likely to “sense” a pH change from 7.4 to 6.2. Moving to an acidic environment, this amino acid, histidine, gains a positive charge. The group suspected that this charge may trigger the VWF building blocks to link together in a long chain.

But there are many histidines located throughout the chain. Like 26 letters of the alphabet form thousands of words, 20 essential amino acids form all proteins in the body. To identify which histidines might be guiding the amino acid chain to form the long VWF tubules, Sadler and his team looked to evolution.

“If a particular histidine is important in this process, it should be present in the same location across many species,” Sadler says.

So Sadler’s group, including the paper’s first author, Luke T. Dang, who was an undergraduate student when he did this work, gathered the DNA sequences of VWF for humans, 19 other placental mammals, a marsupial, two birds, a reptile, an amphibian and five fish. Dang is now a graduate student at the University of Washington, Seattle.

“By lining up the sequences, we found a relatively small number of histidines that are in the same place across species,” Sadler says. “It then becomes manageable to mutate them individually and see if that prevents von Willebrand Factor from assembling.”

Out of the many histidines in the amino acid sequence of VWF, they found two that are important in sensing the pH change and guiding the building blocks to form chains in an acidic environment. When Dang replaced either of these histidines with an amino acid that provides no positive charge, the chain did not form. But when Dang forced a positive charge to always be present at these locations, the chain formed again.

“A positive charge at these positions is important for von Willebrand Factor to assemble properly so it can perform its biological function,” says Sadler, also a hematologist who specializes in treating patients with blood clotting disorders. “Without VWF, you bleed.”

According to Sadler, defects in VWF disproportionately affect women because the protein is especially important for controlling bleeding during menstruation and childbirth. Sadler says this work helps to better understand the defects in pathways that cause von Willebrand Disease and related conditions.

Dang LT, Purvis AR, Huang RH, Westfield LA, Sadler JE. Phylogenetic and functional analysis of histidine residues essential for pH-dependent multimerization of von Willebrand Factor. Journal of Biological Chemistry. July 2011.

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the American Heart Association Midwest Affiliate Postdoctoral Fellowship Award.

Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked fourth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

Julia Evangelou Strait | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>