Background: Plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 (PAI-1) is a serpin that has a key role in the control of fibrinolysis through proteinase inhibition. PAI-1 also has a role in regulating cell adhesion processes relevant to tissue remodeling and metastasis; this role is mediated by its binding to the adhesive glycoprotein vitronectin rather than by proteinase inhibition. Active PAI-1 is metastable and spontaneously transforms to an inactive latent conformation. Previous attempts to crystallize the active conformation of PAI-1 have failed.
Results: The crystal structure of a stable quadruple mutant of PAI-1(Asn150-->His, Lys154-->Thr, Gln319-->Leu, Met354-->Ile) in its active conformation has been solved at a nominal 3 A resolution. In two of four independent molecules within the crystal, the flexible reactive center loop is unconstrained by crystal-packing contacts and is disordered. In the other two molecules, the reactive center loop forms intimate loop-sheet interactions with neighboring molecules, generating an infinite chain within the crystal. The overall conformation resembles that seen for other active inhibitory serpins.
Conclusions: The structure clarifies the molecular basis of the stabilizing mutations and the reduced affinity of PAI-1, on cleavage or in the latent form, for vitronectin. The infinite chain of linked molecules also suggests a new mechanism for the serpin polymerization associated with certain diseases. The results support the concept that the reactive center loop of an active serpin is flexible and has no defined conformation in the absence of intermolecular contacts. The determination of the structure of the active form constitutes an essential step for the rational design of PAI-1 inhibitors.