Background: BMP-2 (bone morphogenetic protein-2) signals via two types of transmembrane serine/threonine kinase receptors (BRI and BRII), which form heteromeric complexes prior to and after ligand binding. Within a BMP-bound receptor complex, BRII transphosphorylates and activates BRI-a for further signaling. We investigated which signaling pathway is initiated by BMP-2 via preformed receptor complexes versus BMP-2-induced signaling receptor complexes.
Methods: Immunofluorescence co-patching was used to study the oligomerization of receptors at the surface of live cells. Binding and chemical cross-linking of iodinated BMP-2 followed by immunoprecipitation was used to show association of receptors in the presence of ligand. Western blots with use of anti-phospho-Smad1 antibodies and reporter gene assays with use of SBE-lux were employed to show activation of the Smad pathway. Phosphorylation of p38-MAPK was shown by Western blots. Induction of alkaline phosphatase was determined by staining the cells. The cluster density of receptors was determined with use of image correlation spectroscopy.
Results and Conclusion: We showed that the Smad pathway is induced by preformed receptor complexes, whereas BMP-2-induced signaling complexes result in the activation of p38-MAPK. We also found evidence that the clustering of BRI-a at the membrane is altered in the presence of BRII, suggesting that it associates with existing clusters of BRII to initiate efficient Smad signaling. These data clearly demonstrate that it is critical to fully understand receptor oligomerization in order to estimate signaling outcome for distinct receptor and ligand mutants.
Clinical Relevance: The development of BMP-2 antagonists is of special importance for a number of human disorders caused by several members of the BMP/TGF-ß (transforming growth factor-beta) superfamily. Since manipulation of BMP-signaling is complex, it is important to understand what influence it might have during the initiation of signaling—:i.e., the oligomerization of BMP receptors to form a signaling receptor complex. There might be cases where either the Smad or the p38 pathway should be targeted.