Heparin-binding EGF-like growth factor (HB-EGF) is a ligand for EGF receptor (EGFR) and possesses the ability to signal in juxtacrine, autocrine and/or paracrine mode, with these alternatives being governed by the degree of proteolytic release of the ligand. Although the spatial range of diffusion of released HB-EGF is restricted by binding heparan-sulfate proteoglycans (HSPGs) in the extracellular matrix and/or cellular glycocalyx, ascertaining mechanisms governing non-released HB-EGF localization is also important for understanding its effects. We have employed a new method for independently tracking the localization of the extracellular EGF-like domain of HB-EGF and the cytoplasmic C-terminus. A striking observation was the absence of the HB-EGF transmembrane pro-form from the leading edge of COS-7 cells in a wound-closure assay; instead, this protein localized in regions of cell-cell contact. A battery of detailed experiments found that this localization derives from a trans interaction between extracellular HSPGs and the HB-EGF heparin-binding domain, and that disruption of this interaction leads to increased release of soluble ligand and a switch in cell phenotype from juxtacrine-induced growth inhibition to autocrine-induced proliferation. Our results indicate that extracellular HSPGs serve to sequester the transmembrane pro-form of HB-EGF at the point of cell-cell contact, and that this plays a role in governing the balance between juxtacrine versus autocrine and paracrine signaling.
- Accepted April 6, 2010.