Bovine capillary endothelial (BCE) cells were incubated at 4 degrees C with 5 ng/ml 125I-basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) to equilibrate 125I-bFGF with high affinity cell surface receptors and low affinity matrix binding sites. 67% of the added 125I-bFGF bound to the matrix and 7% bound to receptors. The fate of bound bFGF was followed after cells were incubated in bFGF-free medium and were shifted to 37 degrees C to restore cell metabolism. 125I-bFGF bound to receptors decreased rapidly while the amount of 125I-bFGF bound to matrix was reduced more slowly. The rapid decrease in receptor-bound 125I-bFGF appeared to be due to a down-regulation of bFGF receptors; cells that had been treated for 5 h with bFGF had 60% fewer high affinity receptors than untreated cells. Despite the initial high level of 125I-bFGF binding to matrix, most of this 125I-bFGF was mobilized and metabolized by the cells. 125I-bFGF was internalized by the cells at 37 degrees C, leading to a constant accumulation of 125I-bFGF within the cell. Internalized bFGF was rapidly cleaved from an 18-kD form to a 16-kD form. The 16-kD form was more slowly degraded with a half-life of approximately 8 h. Degradation of internalized 125I-bFGF was inhibited by chloroquine, suggesting that the digestion occurred in a lysosomal compartment. The role of matrix binding sites in the internalization process was investigated. Binding to matrix sites seemed not to be directly involved in the internalization process, since addition of heparin at a concentration that blocked 95% of the binding to matrix had no effect on the initial rate of internalization of bFGF. BCE cells also released a substance that competed for the binding of bFGF to matrix but not to receptors. This substance bound to DEAE-cellulose and was sensitive to heparinase treatment, suggesting that it was a heparinlike molecule. Thus, heparinlike molecules produced by BCE cells can modulate the cellular interaction with bFGF. Matrix-associated heparinlike molecules bind bFGF which can later be metabolized by the cell, and secreted heparinlike molecules release bFGF from matrices.

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