Structures of VWF tubules before and after concatemerization reveal a mechanism of disulfide bond exchange
Anderson, J.R., Li, J., Springer, T.A. & Brown, A. Structures of VWF tubules before and after concatemerization reveal a mechanism of disulfide bond exchange. Blood (2022).Abstract
von Willebrand Factor (VWF) is an adhesive glycoprotein that circulates in the blood as disulfide-linked concatemers and functions in primary hemostasis. The loss of long VWF concatemers is associated with the excess bleeding of type 2A von Willebrand (VW) disease. Formation of the disulfide bonds that concatemerize VWF requires VWF to self-associate into helical tubules, yet how the helical tubules template intermolecular disulfide bonds is not known. Here, we report cryo-EM structures of complete VWF tubules before and after intermolecular disulfide-bond formation. The structures provide evidence that VWF tubulates through a charge-neutralization mechanism and that the A1 domain enhances tubule length by crosslinking successive helical turns. In addition, the structures reveal disulfide states prior to and after disulfide bond-mediated concatemerization. The structures and proposed assembly mechanism provide a foundation to rationalize VW disease-causing mutations.
Conformation of von Willebrand factor in shear flow revealed with stroboscopic single-molecule imaging
Bergal, H.T., Jiang, Y., Yang, D., Springer, T.A. & Wong, W.P. Conformation of von Willebrand factor in shear flow revealed with stroboscopic single-molecule imaging. Blood (2022).Abstract
von Willebrand factor (VWF) is a multimeric blood protein that acts as a mechanical probe, responding to changes in flow to initiate platelet plug formation. Previously, our labs had shown using single-molecule imaging that shear stress can extend surface-tethered VWF, but paradoxically we found that the required shear stress was higher than reported for free-in-flow VWF-an observation inconsistent with basic physical principles. To resolve this inconsistency critical to VWF's molecular mechanism, we measured free VWF extension in shear flow using PULSIS-Pulsed Laser Stroboscopic Imaging of Single molecules. Here, laser pulses of different durations are used to capture multiple images of the same molecule within each frame, enabling accurate length measurements in the presence of motion blur. At high shear stresses, we observed a mean shift in VWF extension of less than 200 nm, much shorter than the multiple-micron extensions previously reported with no evidence for the predicted sharp globule-stretch conformational transition. Modeling VWF with a Brownian dynamics simulation, our results are consistent with VWF behaving as an uncollapsed polymer rather than the theorized compact ball. The muted response of free VWF to high shear rates implies that 1) the tension experienced by free VWF in physiological shear flow is lower than indicated by previous reports and 2) that tethering to platelets or the vessel wall is required to mechanically activate VWF adhesive function for primary hemostasis.
Von Willebrand factor A1 domain stability and affinity for GPIbα are differentially regulated by its O-glycosylated N- and C-linker
Bonazza, K., et al. Von Willebrand factor A1 domain stability and affinity for GPIbα are differentially regulated by its O-glycosylated N- and C-linker. Elife 11, (2022).Abstract
Hemostasis in the arterial circulation is mediated by binding of the A1 domain of the ultralong protein von Willebrand factor (VWF) to GPIbα on platelets to form a platelet plug. A1 is activated by tensile force on VWF concatemers imparted by hydrodynamic drag force. The A1 core is protected from force-induced unfolding by a long-range disulfide that links cysteines near its N- and C-termini. The O-glycosylated linkers between A1 and its neighboring domains, which transmit tensile force to A1, are reported to regulate A1 activation for binding to GPIb, but the mechanism is controversial and incompletely defined. Here, we study how these linkers, and their polypeptide and O-glycan moieties, regulate A1 affinity by measuring affinity, kinetics, thermodynamics, hydrogen deuterium exchange (HDX), and unfolding by temperature and urea. The N-linker lowers A1 affinity 40-fold with a stronger contribution from its O-glycan than polypeptide moiety. The N-linker also decreases HDX in specific regions of A1 and increases thermal stability and the energy gap between its native state and an intermediate state, which is observed in urea-induced unfolding. The C-linker also decreases affinity of A1 for GPIbα, but in contrast to the N-linker, has no significant effect on HDX or A1 stability. Among different models for A1 activation, our data are consistent with the model that the intermediate state has high affinity for GPIbα, which is induced by tensile force physiologically and regulated allosterically by the N-linker.
Single-molecule imaging of von Willebrand factor reveals tension-dependent self-association
Fu, H., Jiang, Y., Wong, W. & Springer, T.A. Single-molecule imaging of von Willebrand factor reveals tension-dependent self-association. Blood 138, 23, 2425-2434 (2021). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Von Willebrand factor (VWF) is an ultra-long concatemeric protein important in hemostasis and thrombosis. VWF molecules can associate with other VWF molecules, but little is known about the mechanism. Hydrodynamic drag exerts tensile force on surface-tethered VWF that extends it and is maximal at the tether point and declines linearly to zero at the downstream, free end. Using single-molecule fluorescence microscopy, we directly visualize the kinetics of binding of free VWF in flow to surface-tethered single VWF molecules and show that self-association requires elongation of tethered VWF and that association increases with tension in tethered VWF, reaches half maximum at a characteristic tension of ~10 pN, and plateaus above ~ 25 pN. Association is reversible and hence noncovalent; a sharp decrease in shear flow results in rapid dissociation of bound VWF. Tethered, primary VWF molecules can recruit more than their own mass of secondary VWF from the flow stream. Kinetics show that instead of accelerating, the rate of accumulation decreases with time, revealing an inherently self-limiting self-association mechanism. We propose that this may be because multiple tether points between secondary and primary VWF result in lower tension on the secondary VWF, which shields more highly tensioned primary VWF from further association. GPIbα binding and VWF self-association occur in the same region of high tension in tethered VWF concatemers; however, the half-maximal tension required for activation of GPIbα is higher, suggesting differences in molecular mechanisms. These results have important implications for the mechanism of platelet plug formation in hemostasis and thrombosis.
Flow-induced elongation of von Willebrand factor precedes tension-dependent activation
Fu, H., et al. Flow-induced elongation of von Willebrand factor precedes tension-dependent activation. Nat Commun 8, 1, 324 (2017).Abstract
Von Willebrand factor, an ultralarge concatemeric blood protein, must bind to platelet GPIbα during bleeding to mediate hemostasis, but not in the normal circulation to avoid thrombosis. Von Willebrand factor is proposed to be mechanically activated by flow, but the mechanism remains unclear. Using microfluidics with single-molecule imaging, we simultaneously monitored reversible Von Willebrand factor extension and binding to GPIbα under flow. We show that Von Willebrand factor is activated through a two-step conformational transition: first, elongation from compact to linear form, and subsequently, a tension-dependent local transition to a state with high affinity for GPIbα. High-affinity sites develop only in upstream regions of VWF where tension exceeds ~21 pN and depend upon electrostatic interactions. Re-compaction of Von Willebrand factor is accelerated by intramolecular interactions and increases GPIbα dissociation rate. This mechanism enables VWF to be locally activated by hydrodynamic force in hemorrhage and rapidly deactivated downstream, providing a paradigm for hierarchical mechano-regulation of receptor-ligand binding.Von Willebrand factor (VWF) is a blood protein involved in clotting and is proposed to be activated by flow, but the mechanism is unknown. Here the authors show that VWF is first converted from a compact to linear form by flow, and is subsequently activated to bind GPIbα in a tension-dependent manner.
Xu, A. & Springer, T.A. Calcium Stabilizes the von Willebrand Factor A2 Domain by Promoting Folding. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 109, 10, 3742-7 (2012).Abstract

Von Willebrand factor (VWF) is a large, multimeric plasma glycoprotein that critically mediates hemostasis at sites of vascular injury. Very large VWF multimers have the greatest thrombogenic activity, which is attenuated by cleavage in the A2 domain by the metalloproteinase ADAMTS13. ADAMTS13 proteolysis requires mechanical force to expose the scissile bond and is regulated by a calcium-binding site within A2. In this study, we characterized the interaction between VWF A2 and calcium by examining the effect of calcium on VWF A2 stability and mechanical unfolding and refolding. Isothermal calorimetry yielded a calcium binding K(d) = 3.8 ± 1.0 μM and reversible thermal denaturation showed that 5 mM calcium stabilized the unfolding transition from 56.7 ± 0.1 to 69.1 ± 0.1 °C. Using optical tweezers to apply tensile force to single domains, we found that calcium did not affect VWF A2 unfolding, but rather enhanced refolding kinetics fivefold, resulting in a 0.9 kcal/mol stabilization in the folding activation energy in the presence of calcium. Taken together, our data demonstrate that VWF binds calcium at physiologic calcium concentrations and that calcium stabilizes VWF A2 by accelerating refolding.

Blenner, M.A., Dong, X. & Springer, T.A. Structural basis of regulation of von Willebrand factor binding to glycoprotein Ib. J Biol Chem. 289, 9, 5565-79 (2014).Abstract

Activation by elongational flow of von Willebrand factor (VWF) is critical for primary hemostasis. Mutations causing type 2B vonWillebrand disease (VWD), platelet-type VWD (PT-VWD), and tensile force each increase affinity of the VWF A1 domain and plateletglycoprotein Ibα (GPIbα) for one another; however, the structural basis for these observations remains elusive. Directed evolution was used to discover a further gain-of-function mutation in A1 that shifts the long range disulfide bond by one residue. We solved multiple crystal structures of this mutant A1 and A1 containing two VWD mutations complexed with GPIbα containing two PT-VWD mutations. We observed a gained interaction between A1 and the central leucine-rich repeats (LRRs) of GPIbα, previously shown to be important at high shear stress, and verified its importance mutationally. These findings suggest that structural changes, including central GPIbα LRR-A1 contact, contribute to VWF affinity regulation. Among the mutant complexes, variation in contacts and poor complementarity between the GPIbα β-finger and the region of A1 harboring VWD mutations lead us to hypothesize that the structures are on a pathway to, but have not yet reached, a force-induced super high affinity state.

Springer, T.A. von Willebrand Factor, Jedi Knight of the Bloodstream. Blood 124, 9, 1412-25 (2014).Abstract

When blood vessels are cut, the forces in the bloodstream increase and change character. The dark side of these forces causes hemorrhage and death. However, von Willebrand factor (VWF), with help from our circulatory system and platelets, harnesses the same forces to form a hemostatic plug. Force and VWF function are so closely intertwined that, like members of the Jedi Order in the movie Star Wars who learn to use "the Force" to do good, VWF may be considered the Jedi knight of the bloodstream. The long length of VWF enables responsiveness to flow. The shape of VWF is predicted to alter from irregularly coiled to extended thread-like in the transition from shear to elongational flow at sites of hemostasis and thrombosis. Elongational force propagated through the length of VWF in its thread-like shape exposes its monomers for multimeric binding to platelets and subendothelium and likely also increases affinity of the A1 domain for platelets. Specialized domains concatenate and compact VWF during biosynthesis. A2 domain unfolding by hydrodynamic force enables postsecretion regulation of VWF length. Mutations in VWF in von Willebranddisease contribute to and are illuminated by VWF biology. I attempt to integrate classic studies on the physiology of hemostatic plug formation into modern molecular understanding, and point out what remains to be learned.

© 2014 by The American Society of Hematology.

Force-induced on-rate switching and modulation by mutations in gain-of-function von Willebrand diseases.
Kim, J., Hudson, N.E. & Springer, T.A. Force-induced on-rate switching and modulation by mutations in gain-of-function von Willebrand diseases. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 112, 15, 4648-53 (2015).Abstract

Mutations in the ultralong vascular protein von Willebrand factor (VWF) cause the common human bleeding disorder, von Willebranddisease (VWD). The A1 domain in VWF binds to glycoprotein Ibα (GPIbα) on platelets, in a reaction triggered, in part, by alterations in flow during bleeding. Gain-of-function mutations in A1 and GPIbα in VWD suggest conformational regulation. We report that force application switches A1 and/or GPIbα to a second state with faster on-rate, providing a mechanism for activating VWF binding to platelets. Switching occurs near 10 pN, a force that also induces a state of the receptor-ligand complex with slower off-rate. Force greatly increases the effects of VWD mutations, explaining pathophysiology. Conversion of single molecule kon (s(-1)) to bulk phase kon (s(-1)M(-1)) and the kon and koff values extrapolated to zero force for the low-force pathways show remarkably good agreement with bulk-phase measurements.


Zhou, Y.F. & Springer, T.A. Highly reinforced structure of a C-terminal dimerization domain in von Willebrand factor. Blood 123, 12, 1785-93 (2014).Abstract

The C-terminal cystine knot (CK) (CTCK) domain in von Willebrand factor (VWF) mediates dimerization of proVWF in the endoplasmic reticulum and is essential for long multimers required for hemostatic function. The CTCK dimer crystal structure revealshighly elongated monomers with 2 β-ribbons and 4 intra-chain disulfides, including 3 in the CK. Dimerization buries an extensive interface of 1500 Å(2) corresponding to 32% of the surface of each monomer and forms a super β-sheet and 3 inter-chain disulfides. The shape, dimensions, and N-terminal connections of the crystal structure agree perfectly with previous electron microscopic images of VWF dimeric bouquets with the CTCK dimer forming a down-curved base. The dimer interface is suited to resist hydrodynamic force and disulfide reduction. CKs in each monomer flank the 3 inter-chain disulfides, and their presence in β-structures with dense backbone hydrogen bonds creates a rigid, highly crosslinked interface. The structure reveals the basis for vonWillebrand disease phenotypes and the fold and disulfide linkages for CTCK domains in diverse protein families involved in barrier function, eye and inner ear development, insect coagulation and innate immunity, axon guidance, and signaling in extracellular matrices.