Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Dimerization of Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Phosphatase alpha in living cells

Leon GJ Tertoolen1, Christophe Blanchetot1, Guoqiang Jiang23, John Overvoorde1, Theodorus WJ Gadella4, Tony Hunter2 and Jeroen den Hertog1*

Author Affiliations

1 Hubrecht Laboratory, Netherlands Institute for Developmental Biology, Utrecht, The Netherlands

2 Molecular Biology and Virology Laboratory, The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, USA

3 present address: Merck Research Laboratory, Rahway, USA

4 Laboratory for Molecular Biology, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands

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BMC Cell Biology 2001, 2:8  doi:10.1186/1471-2121-2-8

Published: 1 June 2001



Dimerization is an important regulatory mechanism of single membrane-spanning receptors. For instance, activation of receptor protein-tyrosine kinases (RPTKs) involves dimerization. Structural, functional and biochemical studies suggested that the enzymatic counterparts of RPTKs, the receptor protein-tyrosine phosphatases (RPTPs), are inhibited by dimerization, but whether RPTPs actually dimerize in living cells remained to be determined.


In order to assess RPTP dimerization, we have assayed Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET) between chimeric proteins of cyan- and yellow-emitting derivatives of green fluorescent protein, fused to RPTPα, using three different techniques: dual wavelength excitation, spectral imaging and fluorescence lifetime imaging. All three techniques suggested that FRET occurred between RPTPα -CFP and -YFP fusion proteins, and thus that RPTPα dimerized in living cells. RPTPα dimerization was constitutive, extensive and specific. RPTPα dimerization was consistent with cross-linking experiments, using a non-cell-permeable chemical cross-linker. Using a panel of deletion mutants, we found that the transmembrane domain was required and sufficient for dimerization.


We demonstrate here that RPTPα dimerized constitutively in living cells, which may be mediated by the transmembrane domain, providing strong support for the model that dimerization is involved in regulation of RPTPs.