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Unfolding and refolding of plasma vitronectin appear irreversible under near physiological conditions, with rearrangements of disulfides and self-association to a multimeric form observed as prominent structural alterations which accompany denaturation. A mechanism for the folding reactions of vitronectin has been proposed (Zhuang, P., Blackburn, M. NPeterson, C. B. (1996) J. Biol. Chem. 270, 14323-14332) in which vitronectin acquires a partially folded intermediate structure which is highly prone to oligomerize into a multimeric form. Strongly oxidizing conditions adopted for refolding from urea were effective at preventing disulfide rearrangement which disrupts distal disulfides near the C terminus of the protein. Prohibiting disulfide rearrangement under these conditions, however, was not sufficient to achieve reversibility in folding. In contrast, variations in the ionic strength of the refolding medium affect the partitioning of species so that refolded monomers are obtained at high ionic strength, and self-association is precluded. The effects of ionic strength on the partially folded intermediate in the vitronectin folding pathway appear to favor intramolecular hydrophobic collapse to form a stable hydrophobic core for the monomer versus intermolecular hydrophobic interactions which stabilize multimeric vitronectin. Although both ionic and hydrophobic interactions presumably contribute to subunit interfaces within the multimer, the basic heparin-binding region near the C terminus of the protein does not provide binding interactions which are important for self-association of vitronectin.

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Journal of Biological Chemistry

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