Medium conditioned by Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells transfected with the simian pre-pro-TGF beta 1 cDNA contains high levels of latent TGF beta 1. The amino-terminal region of the TGF beta 1 precursor is secreted and can be detected in the conditioned medium by immunoblotting using peptide antibodies specific for amino-terminal peptides. Chemical cross-linking of CHO-conditioned medium using bis-(sulfosuccinimidyl)-suberate (BS3) followed by immunoblot analyses indicates that latent recombinant TGF beta 1 contains both the cleaved amino-terminal glycopeptide and mature TGF beta 1 polypeptide in a noncovalent association and that this association confers latency. The data presented here do not support the involvement of a unique TGF beta binding protein(s) in latent recombinant TGF beta 1. Plasmin treatment of CHO-conditioned medium resulted in the appearance of TGF beta competing activity. In addition, immunoblot analysis of plasmin-treated CHO-conditioned medium indicates that the amino-terminal glycopeptide is partially degraded and that mature TGF beta 1 is released. Thus, activation of latent TGF beta 1 may occur by proteolytic nicking within the amino-terminal glycopeptide thereby causing a disruption of tertiary structure and noncovalent bonds, which results in the release of active, mature TGF beta 1. Acid activation of latent TGF beta, in comparison, appears to be due to dissociation of the amino-terminal glycopeptide from the mature polypeptide.
Transforming growth factor-beta (TGF beta) is produced by most cultured cells in an inactive form. Potential activation mechanisms of latent TGF beta were studied using fibroblastic (NRK-49F and AKR-MCA) cell-conditioned medium as a model. Active TGF beta was monitored by radioreceptor and soft agar assays as well as by antibody inhibition and immunoprecipitation. Little or no TGF beta was detected in untreated conditioned medium. Treatment of the medium with extremes of pH (1.5 or 12) resulted in significant activation of TGF beta as shown by radioreceptor assays, while mild acid treatment (pH 4.5) yielded only 20-30% of the competition achieved by pH 1.5. In an effort to define more physiological means of TGF beta activation, the effects of some proteases were tested. Plasmin and cathepsin D were found to generate 25-kD bands corresponding to the active form of TGF beta as shown by immunoprecipitation analysis of radiolabeled cell-conditioned medium. Plasmin treatment of the medium resulted in activity that was quantitatively similar to that of mild acid treatment as measured by radioreceptor and soft agar assays. In addition, the plasmin-generated activity was inhibited by anti-TGF beta antibodies. Sequential treatments of AKR-MCA cell-conditioned medium with mild acid followed by plasmin or plasmin followed by mild acid gave activation comparable to either treatment alone. The data suggest that conditioned medium may contain at least two different pools of latent TGF beta. One pool is resistant to mild acid and/or plasmin and requires strong acid or alkali treatment for activation. A second pool is activated by mild pH change and/or plasmin. Activation of this form of latent TGF beta may take place by dissociation or proteolytic digestion from a precursor molecule or hypothetical TGF beta-binding protein complex.