Modulation of vascular endothelial growth factor receptor affinity by neuropilin-1 and heparan sulfate proteoglycans
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Angiogenesis is a highly regulated process orchestrated by the vascular endothelial growth factor-A (VEGF-A) system of ligands and receptors. Heparin/heparan sulfate (HS) proteoglycans and neuropilin-1 (NRP-1) have been identified as co-receptors for VEGF-A, yet the mechanisms of action have not been fully defined. In the present study, we characterized molecular interactions between receptors and co-receptors and the two major VEGF-A isoforms, using surface plasmon resonance (SPR) and in vitro binding assays. We found that VEGF dissociated 25-times faster from its major signaling receptor, VEGF receptor-2 (VEGFR-2) than from its “decoy” receptor, VEGF receptor-1 (VEGFR-1). We identified a potential mechanism for co-receptors to decrease the dissociation rate and prolong the signaling complex lifetime. Using a systematic approach, we obtained kinetic parameters for each individual interaction in an intercomparable way to measure the effect NRP-1 and HS have on complex stability. Additionally, we demonstrated that these binding events influence VEGF activity within endothelial cells. These parameters can be used in mathematical models to predict therapy outcomes in defined cellular contexts. Furthermore, we optimized a competition-based technique using SPR and structurally defined HS oligosaccharides and demonstrated that it can be used to rapidly measure affinities to HS-binding proteins. We used this method to define interactions and structural and length requirements for heparin/HS interactions with VEGFR-1, NRP-1, and VEGF165, the most relevant VEGF-A isoform, in complex with VEGFR-2 and NRP-1. We show that the structural requirements were distinct for each interaction. We further found that VEGF165, VEGFR-2 and monomeric NRP-1 bound weakly to heparin alone, yet binding to heparin increased synergistically when presented together. This enhanced binding correlated with alterations in VEGF signaling in endothelial cells. We found that soluble NRP-1 increased VEGF binding and activated phosphorylation of VEGFR-2 and Erk1/2 in endothelial cells, and that these effects required sulfated HS. These data suggest that the presence of HS/heparin and NRP-1 may dictate the specific receptor type activated by VEGF and ultimately determine the biological output. The ability of co-receptors to fine-tune VEGF responsiveness suggests the possibility that VEGF-mediated angiogenesis can be selectively stimulated or inhibited by targeting HS/heparin and NRP-1.