Mechanisms of glycosaminoglycan activation of the serpins in hemostasis


James A. Huntington, University of Cambridge, Department of Haematology, Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, Wellcome Trust/MRC Building, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 2XY, UK.
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Summary.  Serpins are the predominant protease inhibitors in the higher organisms and are responsible, in humans, for the control of many highly regulated processes including blood coagulation and fibrinolysis. The serpin inhibitory mechanism has recently been revealed by the solution of a crystallographic structure of the final serpin–protease complex. The serpin mechanism, in contrast to the classical lock-and-key mechanism, involves dramatic conformational change in both the inhibitor and the inhibited protein. The final result is a stable covalent complex in which the properties of each component are altered so as to allow clearance from the circulation. Several serpins are involved in hemostasis: antithrombin (AT) inhibits many coagulation proteases, most importantly factor Xa and thrombin; heparin cofactor II (HCII) inhibits thrombin; protein C inhibitor (PCI) inhibits activated protein C and thrombin bound to thrombomodulin; plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 inhibits tissue plasminogen activator; and α2-antiplasmin inhibits plasmin. Nearly all of these reactions are accelerated through interactions with glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) such as heparin or heparan sulfate. Recent structures of AT, HCII and PCI have revealed how in each case the serpin mechanism has been fine-tuned by evolution to bring about high levels of regulatory control, and how seemingly disparate mechanisms of GAG binding and activation can share critical elements. By considering the serpins involved in hemostasis together it is possible to develop a deeper understanding of their complex individual roles.