The precursor protein of von Willebrand factor (pro-vWF) consists of four different repeated domains, denoted D1-D2-D'-D3-A1-A2-A3-D4-B1-B2-B3-C1-C2, followed by a carboxy-terminal region of 151 amino acids without obvious internal homology. Previously, we have shown the requirement of the domains D1, D2, D', and D3 of pro-vWF in the assembly of pro-vWF dimers into multimers. Here, we define the domains of vWF involved in dimerization, using deletion mutants of full-length vWF cDNA transiently expressed in monkey kidney COS-1 cells. It is shown that only the carboxy-terminal 151 amino acid residues of vWF are required for dimerization. In addition, by analyzing a construct, encoding only the carboxy-terminal 151 amino acids of vWF, we find that the formation of dimers is an event independent of other domains present on pro-vWF, such as the domains C1 and C2 previously suggested to be involved in dimerization. Furthermore, it is shown that a deletion mutant of vWF, lacking the carboxy-terminal 151 amino acid residues and thus unable to dimerize, is proteolytically degraded in the ER. In contrast, a mutant protein, composed only of the carboxy-terminal 151 amino acids of vWF, and able to dimerize, is transported from the ER in a similar fashion as wild-type vWF. The role of the ER in the assembly of vWF is discussed with regard to the data presented in this paper on the intracellular fate of several vWF mutant proteins.

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