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W.-X. Wu, J. Brooks, M. R. Millar, W. L. Ledger, P. T. K. Saunders, A. F. Glasier, and A. S. McNeilly


While the fetal pituitary synthesizes and releases prolactin, it is also produced within the utero-placental unit during pregnancy in women and has been localized in the amnion, chorion and decidua. However, it is not clear whether prolactin is synthesized within all these non-fetal pituitary tissues. We have investigated prolactin production and its gene expression using tissue culture, immunocytochemistry and in-situ hybridization techniques. Prolactin was immunolocalized not only in the decidua but also in amnion and trophoblast cells. In contrast, the in-situ hybridization results showed that silver grains, formed by specific hybridization of a prolactin cDNA probe to prolactin mRNA, were confined to decidual cells of early and term pregnancy. The results from tissue cultures correlated well with those of in-situ hybridization, that is that only the decidua made detectable prolactin, while it was undetectable in the culture medium from trophoblast tissue, irrespective of the stage of pregnancy. This study, for the first time, establishes that only decidualized cells are involved in biosynthesis of prolactin; other prolactin-containing cells in the amnion and trophoblast appear to sequester prolactin, possibly via receptors, suggesting that prolactin may play an important paracrine role within the amnion and syncitio- and cytotrophoblast of the utero-placental unit.

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C J Xian, Z Upton, C Goddard, C A Shoubridge, K A McNeil, J C Wallace, L C Read, and G L Francis


This study describes the biosynthesis of a human epidermal growth factor fusion protein, Long EGF, that has a 53 amino acid extension peptide derived from the 46 N-terminal amino acids of porcine GH. The approach allowed the production of Long EGF at high efficiency due to the expression of the fusion protein in high yield as inclusion bodies in Escherichia coli. Long EGF had a slightly lower potency compared with native EGF in a range of assays, including binding to anti-EGF antibodies or the EGF receptor, stimulation of Balb/3T3 fibroblast and rat intestinal epithelial cell growth, as well as counteracting the inhibition of mink lung epithelial cell proliferation by transforming growth factor-β1.

Degradation of Long EGF and native EGF was compared in gastrointestinal flushings as an indication of whether the EGF domain of the fusion protein would be protected from proteolytic cleavage and be useful as a trophic agent in the gut. Incubation with flushings from the stomach or jejunum of rats caused rapid cleavage of the extension peptide, releasing native EGF. A C-terminal truncation of Arg53 in the stomach and a removal of the C-terminal pentapeptide (49Trp-Trp-Glu-Leu-Arg53) in the small bowel was demonstrated by N-terminal sequencing and mass spectrometry. The degradation patterns were reflected by changes in migration of products on SDS-PAGE and in subsequent binding activities to the EGF receptor and anti-EGF antibodies. The data show that a human EGF fusion protein can be produced efficiently in a bacterial expression system and that it retains biological activity in vitro. Although the extension peptide was rapidly cleaved from Long EGF in both stomach and small bowel producing similar biological activity to native EGF, it could not prevent subsequent degradation of the EGF domain. Other strategies are being investigated to develop an effective oral form of EGF that resists digestion by proteases in the gastrointestinal tract.

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F E Carrick, M G Hinds, K A McNeil, J C Wallace, B E Forbes, and R S Norton

The interaction of IGF binding protein-2 (IGFBP-2) with IGF-I and -II has been investigated in solution using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. Chemical shift perturbations in 15N- and 2H/15N-labelled IGF-I or -II upon binding to unlabelled thioredoxin-tagged bovine IGFBP-2 (Trx1–279IGFBP-2) have been monitored to identify residues involved directly in the binding interaction as well as any affected by conformational changes associated with the interaction. A key step in obtaining high-quality spectra of the complexes was the use of transverse relaxation optimised spectroscopy (TROSY) methods with partially deuterated ligands. Indeed, because the effects of conformational averaging and aggregation are eliminated in IGF-I and -II bound to IGFBP-2, the spectra of the complexes are actually superior to those of the free ligands. Comparison of our results with the crystal structure of the complex between IGF-I and an N-terminal fragment of IGFBP-5 allowed identification of those residues perturbed by the C-domain of IGFBP-2. Other perturbations, such as those of Gly19 and Asp20 of IGF-I (and the corresponding residues in IGF-II) – which are located in a reverse turn linking N-domain and C-domain interactive surfaces – are due to local conformational changes in the IGF-I and -II. Our results confirm that the C-domain of IGFBP-2 plays a key role in binding regions of IGF-I and -II that are also involved in binding to the type-1 IGF receptor and thereby blocking ligand binding to this receptor.

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G. L. Francis, M. Ross, F. J. Ballard, S. J. Milner, C. Senn, K. A. McNeil, J. C. Wallace, R. King, and J. R. E. Wells


An efficient expression system in Escherichia coli for several biologically active insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) fusion peptide analogues is described. These novel IGF-I fusion protein analogues have properties that make them very useful reagents in the investigation of IGF-I action. The analogues comprise an IGF-I sequence and the first 11 amino acids of methionyl porcine growth hormone (pGH) and include [Met1]-pGH(1–11)-Val-Asn-IGF-I, which contains the authentic IGF-I sequence, and two analogues, [Met1]-pGH(1–11)-Val-Asn-[Gly3]-IGF-I and [Met1]-pGH(1–11)-Val-Asn-[Arg3]-IGF-I, where Glu3 in the human IGF-I sequence has been replaced by Gly or Arg respectively. The three peptides are referred to as Long IGF-I, Long [Gly3]-IGF-I or Long [Arg3]-IGF-I depending on the IGF-I sequence present. Production of the purified fusion peptides was aided by folding the reduced and denatured fusion peptide sequence under conditions that gave very high yields of biologically active product. Introduction of a hydrophobic N-terminal extension peptide appears to facilitate the correct folding of the IGF-I analogues compared with that obtained previously when folding normal-length IGFs. The biological activities of the IGF-I fusion peptides were compared with authentic IGF-I and the truncated analogue, des(1–3)IGF-I. In L6 rat myoblasts, all the analogues were more potent than authentic IGF-I in their abilities to stimulate protein and DNA synthesis and inhibit protein breakdown. In H35 hepatoma cells, where the IGFs act through the insulin receptor, the Long IGF-I analogues maintained a similar potency relative to IGF-I as was observed in the L6 myoblasts. The order of biological potency in cell lines secreting IGF-binding proteins (IGFBPs) into the medium was Long [Arg3]IGF-I-des(1–3)IGF-I>Long [Gly3]-IGF-I>Long IGF-I>IGF-I. In chicken embryo fibroblasts, a cell line that does not secrete detectable IGFBPs into the medium, Long [Arg3]-IGF-I, was less potent than IGF-I. Investigation of receptor and IGFBP association by these analogues reinforced our previous findings that N-terminal analogues of IGF-I show increased biological potency due to changes in the degree of their IGFBP interactions.