Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The complete N-terminal extension of heparin cofactor II is required for maximal effectiveness as a thrombin exosite 1 ligand

Amanda J Boyle1, Leigh Ann Roddick1, Varsha Bhakta4, Melissa D Lambourne4, Murray S Junop2, Patricia C Liaw3, Jeffrey I Weitz3 and William P Sheffield14*

Author Affiliations

1 Departments of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, McMaster University, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton, ON L8S 4K1, Canada

2 Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences, McMaster University, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton, ON L8S 4K1, Canada

3 Department of Medicine, McMaster University, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton, ON L8S 4K1, Canada

4 Department of Research and Development, Canadian Blood Services, HSC 4N66 McMaster University, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton, ON L8S 4K1, Canada

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BMC Biochemistry 2013, 14:6  doi:10.1186/1471-2091-14-6

Published: 7 March 2013



Heparin cofactor II (HCII) is a circulating protease inhibitor, one which contains an N-terminal acidic extension (HCII 1-75) unique within the serpin superfamily. Deletion of HCII 1-75 greatly reduces the ability of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) to accelerate the inhibition of thrombin, and abrogates HCII binding to thrombin exosite 1. While a minor portion of HCII 1-75 can be visualized in a crystallized HCII-thrombin S195A complex, the role of the rest of the extension is not well understood and the affinity of the HCII 1-75 interaction has not been quantitatively characterized. To address these issues, we expressed HCII 1-75 as a small, N-terminally hexahistidine-tagged polypeptide in E. coli.


Immobilized purified HCII 1-75 bound active α-thrombin and active-site inhibited FPR-ck- or S195A-thrombin, but not exosite-1-disrupted γT-thrombin, in microtiter plate assays. Biotinylated HCII 1-75 immobilized on streptavidin chips bound α-thrombin and FPR-ck-thrombin with similar KD values of 330-340 nM. HCII 1-75 competed thrombin binding to chip-immobilized HCII 1-75 more effectively than HCII 54-75 but less effectively than the C-terminal dodecapeptide of hirudin (mean Ki values of 2.6, 8.5, and 0.29 μM, respectively). This superiority over HCII 54-75 was also demonstrated in plasma clotting assays and in competing the heparin-catalysed inhibition of thrombin by plasma-derived HCII; HCII 1-53 had no effect in either assay. Molecular modelling of HCII 1-75 correctly predicted those portions of the acidic extension that had been previously visualized in crystal structures, and suggested that an α-helix found between residues 26 and 36 stabilizes one found between residues 61-67. The latter region has been previously shown by deletion mutagenesis and crystallography to play a crucial role in the binding of HCII to thrombin exosite 1.


Assuming that the KD value for HCII 1-75 of 330-340 nM faithfully predicts that of this region in intact HCII, and that 1-75 binding to exosite 1 is GAG-dependent, our results support a model in which thrombin first binds to GAGs, followed by HCII addition to the ternary complex and release of HCII 1-75 for exosite 1 binding and serpin mechanism inhibition. They further suggest that, in isolated or transferred form, the entire HCII 1-75 region is required to ensure maximal binding of thrombin exosite 1.

Heparin cofactor II; Thrombin; Serpins; Exosites; Coagulation; Inhibition