Midkine (MK) is a heparin-binding growth factor or cytokine and forms a small protein family, the other member of which is pleiotrophin. MK enhances survival, migration, cytokine expression, differentiation and other activities of target cells. MK is involved in various physiological processes, such as development, reproduction and repair, and also plays important roles in the pathogenesis of inflammatory and malignant diseases. MK is largely composed of two domains, namely a more N-terminally located N-domain and a more C-terminally located C-domain. Both domains are basically composed of three antiparallel β-sheets. In addition, there are short tails in the N-terminal and C-terminal sides and a hinge connecting the two domains. Several membrane proteins have been identified as MK receptors: receptor protein tyrosine phosphatase Z1 (PTPζ), low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein, integrins, neuroglycan C, anaplastic lymphoma kinase and Notch-2. Among them, the most established one is PTPζ. It is a transmembrane tyrosine phophatase with chondroitin sulfate, which is essential for high-affinity binding with MK. PI3K and MAPK play important roles in the downstream signalling system of MK, while transcription factors affected by MK signalling include NF-κB, Hes-1 and STATs. Because of the involvement of MK in various physiological and pathological processes, MK itself as well as pharmaceuticals targeting MK and its signalling system are expected to be valuable for the treatment of numerous diseases.
This article is part of a themed section on Midkine. To view the other articles in this section visit http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/bph.2014.171.issue-4