Site-directed mutagenesis studies have suggested that additional peptide information in the central cell-binding domain of fibronectin besides the minimal Arg-Gly-Asp (RGD) sequence is required for its full adhesive activity. The nature of this second, synergistic site was analyzed further by protein chemical and immunological approaches using biological assays for adhesion, migration, and matrix assembly. Fragments derived from the cell-binding domain were coupled covalently to plates, and their specific molar activities in mediating BHK cell spreading were compared with that of intact fibronectin. A 37-kD fragment purified from chymotryptic digests of human plasma fibronectin had essentially the same specific molar activity as intact fibronectin. In contrast, other fragments such as an 11.5-kD fragment lacking NH2-terminal sequences of the 37-kD fragment had only poor spreading activity on a molar basis. Furthermore, in competitive inhibition assays of fibronectin-mediated cell spreading, the 37-kD fragment was approximately 325-fold more active than the GRGDS synthetic peptide on a molar basis. mAbs were produced using the 37-kD protein as an immunogen and their epitopes were characterized. Two separate mAbs, one binding close to the RGD site and the other to a site approximately 15 kD distant from the RGD site, individually inhibited BHK cell spreading on fibronectin by greater than 90%. In contrast, an antibody that bound between these two sites had minimal inhibitory activity. The antibodies found to be inhibitory in cell spreading assays for BHK cells also inhibited both fibronectin-mediated cell spreading and migration of human HT-1080 cells, functions which were also dependent on function of the alpha 5 beta 1 integrin (fibronectin receptor). Assembly of endogenously synthesized fibronectin into an extracellular matrix was not significantly inhibited by most of the anti-37-kD mAbs, but was strongly inhibited only by the antibodies binding close to the RGD site or the putative synergy site. These results indicate that a second site distant from the RGD site on fibronectin is crucial for its full biological activity in diverse functions dependent on the alpha 5 beta 1 fibronectin receptor. This site is mapped by mAbs closer to the RGD site than previously expected.

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