The interleukin 2 receptor alpha (IL2Ralpha; CD25; Tac) is the prototypic model for soluble receptor studies. It exists in vivo as a transmembrane complete molecule (TM-Tac) on cell surfaces and as a truncated soluble form (sTac; sIL2R alpha). sTac has been used as a serum marker of T cell activation in immune disorders and of tumor burden in Tac-expressing malignancies. In vivo, serum levels of all soluble proteins depend on the balance between production and catabolism, but little is known about the metabolic features of this class of molecules. We have developed a model for Tac metabolism that incorporates new insights in its production and catabolism. Tac was shed from the surface of malignant and activated human T cells with a model half-life (t1/2) of 2-6h, but which was prolonged under certain circumstances. The rate of shedding is first order overall and nonsaturable over a two order of magnitude range of substrate (TM-Tac) expression. Once shed from cells Tac is subject to catabolic activities in the host. In vivo studies in mice showed that 90% of Tac was catabolized by the kidney with a t1/2 of 1 h and a filtration fraction of 0.11 relative to creatinine. The remaining 10% of catabolism was mediated by other tissues with a t1/2 of 10 h. Approximately 1-3% of sTac is excreted intact as proteinuria with the remaining 97-99% catabolized to amino acids. Antibody to the receptor induced a marked delay in sTac catabolism by preventing filtration of the smaller protein through the renal glomerulus and additionally suppressing other nonrenal catabolic mechanisms. A discrepancy between the catabolic rats for Tac and anti-Tac in the same complex was interpreted as a previously unrecognized differential catabolic mechanism, suggesting features of the Brambell hypothesis and immunoglobulin G transport and catabolism, in which the antigen-in-complex in intracellular vesicles is relatively less protected from catabolism than the associated antibody. In light of the pivotal role played by the kidney in sTac catabolism and the impact of administered antibody, the serum concentration of Tac in the settings of renal dysfunction or antibody therapy is not a suitable surrogate of activated T cells or of the body burden of tumor. These results provide parameters for assessing soluble receptor-ligand interactions generally.

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