Biosynthesis of von Willebrand protein by human umbilical vein endothelial cells involved distinct processing steps marked by the presence of several intermediate molecular species. Examination of endoglycosidase H sensitivity of these intracellular intermediates indicated that the processing steps occurred in at least two separate cellular compartments. In the pre-Golgi apparatus (most probably the endoplasmic reticulum), the high mannose carbohydrates were added onto the precursor monomer chains and the 260,000-mol-wt monomers dimerized by interchain disulfide bond formation. The other processing steps have been localized to the Golgi apparatus and later compartments (e.g., Weibel-Palade bodies). High mannose carbohydrate was converted to the complex type, leading to the appearance of a larger precursor subunit of 275,000 mol wt. The 275,000-mol-wt species was not formed if carbohydrate processing was inhibited by the ionophore monensin. From the large pool of dimers of precursor subunits, the high molecular weight multimers were built. These dimer molecules appeared to have free sulfhydryls which might have been involved in the interdimer disulfide bond formation. Simultaneously with multimerization, the precursor subunits were cleaved to the 220,000-mol-wt form. The cleavage of the pro-sequence was not likely to be an absolute requirement for von Willebrand protein multimerization or secretion, as the 275,000-mol-wt precursor subunit was present in secreted high molecular weight multimers of the protein.

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