Human WI-38 fibroblasts in cultures synthesized at least three molecular forms of the major, extracellular matrix glycoprotein (GP), GP140: (a) cytoplasmic GP140 (1.2 ng of GP140/micrograms of cell protein) was detergent-soluble, underglycosylated, and possessed detectable levels of intermolecular disulfide bonding; (b) matrix GP140 (3.6 ng of GP140/micrograms of cell protein) was detergent-insoluble, more highly glycosylated and polymerized by intermolecular disulfide bonding, and co-distributed in the extracellular matrix with fibronectin; and (c) released GP140 (2 ng of GP140/micrograms of cell protein per 24 h) was recovered in the conditioned culture media and lacked intermolecular disulfide bonding. Cytoplasmic GP140 was the immediate biosynthetic precursor of the matrix form of GP140. In addition, various human adult and fetal tissues contained a form of GP140 that resembled the fibroblast matrix GP140 in the degree of intermolecular disulfide bonding, relative molecular mass, and immunological reactivity. Analysis of the sequence of events in assembly of GP140 and fibronectin in the extracellular matrix detected the following: (a) fibronectin was first to appear in the extracellular matrix; (b) GP140 accumulated in the cytoplasm, then deposited in the extracellular matrix and co-aligned with the established fibronectin; and (c) maturation of the extracellular matrix proceeded by continued intermolecular disulfide bonding. To evaluate possible roles for intermolecular disulfide bonding in cell interactions, a unique assay system was utilized based on the ability of labeled cells to incorporate radioactive matrix components into a biotinylated exogenous matrix. Precipitation of the biotinylated matrix from extracts of the cultures using avidin indicated: (a) disulfide bonding of radioactive GP140 and fibronectin into the exogenous biotinylated matrix required cell contact with the matrix. The newly deposited GP140 and fibronectin derived from the cells and not from GP140 and fibronectin present in the conditioned culture media. (b) Pro-alpha 1 and Pro-alpha 2 procollagens, present in the culture media, bound to the exogenous matrix in a noncovalent manner and were independent of cell contact. (c) SV40 transformed cells (WI-38 VA13) synthesized released form GP140 but did not deposit GP140 into the biotinylated matrix.

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