Adhesion of monocytes to the extracellular matrix is mediated by a direct high affinity interaction between cell-surface urokinase-type plasminogen activator (uPA) receptor (uPAR) and the extracellular matrix protein vitronectin. We demonstrate a tight connection between uPA-regulated uPAR oligomerization and high affinity binding to immobilized vitronectin. We find that binding of soluble uPAR (suPAR) to immobilized vitronectin is strictly ligand-dependent with a linear relationship between the observed binding and the concentration of ligand added. Nevertheless, a comparison of experimentally obtained binding curves to those generated using a simple equilibrium model suggests that the high affinity vitronectin-binding pro-uPA-suPAR complex contains two molecules of suPAR. In co-immunoprecipitation experiments, using different epitopetagged suPAR molecules, suPAR/suPAR co-immunoprecipitation displayed a similar uPA dose dependence as that observed for vitronectin binding, demonstrating that the high affinity vitronectin-binding complex indeed contains oligomeric suPAR. Structurally, the kringle domain of uPA was found to be critical for the formation of the vitronectin-binding competent complex because the amino-terminal fragment, but not the growth factor-like domain, behaved as a full-length uPA. Our data represent the first demonstration of functional, ligand-induced uPAR oligomerization having extensive implications for glycosylphosphatidylinositolanchored receptors in general, and for the biology of the uPA/uPAR system in particular.
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