Structural distinctions in BMPs underlie divergent signaling in spinal neurons
1 Department of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics, Columbia University, 630 West 168th Street (BB1103), New York, NY, 10032, USA
2 Department of Neuroscience, Columbia University, 630 West 168th Street (BB1103), New York, NY, 10032, USA
Neural Development 2012, 7:16 doi:10.1186/1749-8104-7-16Published: 4 May 2012
In dorsal spinal neurons and monocytes, bone morphogenetic protein (BMP)7 activates distinct transduction pathways, one leading to inductive specification and the other to axon orientation and chemotaxis. BMP7-evoked induction, also stimulated by the closely related BMP6, acts through a Smad cascade, leading to nuclear signaling, and is not BMPR subunit selective. Orientation is evoked by BMP7, but not by BMP6, through PI3K-dependent cytoskeletal activation mediated by the type II BMPRs, ActRIIA and BMPRII and is independent of the Smad cascade. The responses can be stimulated concurrently and suggest that BMP7, but not BMP6, can selectively activate BMPR subunits that engage the divergent paths. Although structural and biochemical analyses of selected BMP/BMPR interfaces have identified key regions of interaction, how these translate into function by related BMPs is poorly understood. To determine the mechanisms underlying the distinct activities of BMP7 and the disparate properties of BMP7 and BMP6 in spinal cord development, we have performed a family-wide structure/function analysis of BMPs and used the information to predict and test sites within BMPs that may control agonist properties, in particular the ability of a BMP to orient axons, through interactions with BMPRs.
We demonstrate that whereas all BMPs can induce dorsal neurons, there is selectivity in the ability also to orient axons or evoke growth cone collapse. The degree to which a BMP orients is not predictable by overall protein similarity with other BMPs but comparison of sequences of potent and weakly orienting BMPs with that of the non-orienting BMP6 revealed three candidate positions within the BMPs at which the amino acid residues may confer or obstruct orienting ability. Residue swapping analysis has identified one residue, Gln48 in BMP6, that blocks axon orienting ability. Replacing Gln48 with any of the amino acids present at the equivalent residue position in the orienting subset of BMPs confers orienting activity on BMP6. Conversely, swapping Gln48 into BMP7 reduces orienting ability. The inductive capacity of the BMPs was unchanged by these residue swaps.
The results suggest that the presence of the Gln48 residue in BMP6 is structurally inhibitory for BMP/BMPR interactions that result in the activation of intracellular signaling, leading to axon orientation. Moreover, since residue 48 in BMP7 and the corresponding residue in BMP2 are important for type II BMPR binding, our results provide a basis for a mechanistic understanding of the diverse activities of BMPs in spinal cord development.