The monomer-dimer equilibrium of stromal cell-derived factor-1 (CXCL 12) is altered by pH, phosphate, sulfate, and heparin

Protein Sci. 2005 Apr;14(4):1071-81. doi: 10.1110/ps.041219505. Epub 2005 Mar 1.


Chemokines, like stromal cell-derived factor-1 (SDF1/CXCL12), are small secreted proteins that signal cells to migrate. Because SDF1 and its receptor CXCR4 play important roles in embryonic development, cancer metastasis, and HIV/AIDS, this chemokine signaling system is the subject of intense study. However, it is not known whether the monomeric or dimeric structure of SDF1 is responsible for signaling in vivo. Previous structural studies portrayed the SDF1 structure as either strictly monomeric in solution or dimeric when crystallized. Here, we report two-dimensional NMR, pulsed-field gradient diffusion and fluorescence polarization measurements at various SDF1 concentrations, solution conditions, and pH. These results demonstrate that SDF1 can form a dimeric structure in solution, but only at nonacidic pH when stabilizing counterions are present. Thus, while the previous NMR structural studies were performed under acidic conditions that strongly promote the monomeric state, crystallographic studies used nonacidic buffer conditions that included divalent anions shown here to promote dimerization. This pH-sensitive aggregation behavior is explained by a dense cluster of positively charged residues at the SDF1 dimer interface that includes a histidine side chain at its center. A heparin disaccharide shifts the SDF1 monomer-dimer equilibrium in the same manner as other stabilizing anions, suggesting that glycosaminoglycan binding may be coupled to SDF1 dimerization in vivo.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Chemokine CXCL12
  • Chemokines, CXC / chemistry*
  • Chemokines, CXC / genetics
  • Chemokines, CXC / metabolism
  • Dimerization
  • Heparin / chemistry*
  • Heparin / metabolism
  • Histidine / chemistry
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Biomolecular
  • Phosphates / chemistry
  • Protons
  • Recombinant Proteins / chemistry
  • Static Electricity
  • Sulfates / chemistry


  • Chemokine CXCL12
  • Chemokines, CXC
  • Phosphates
  • Protons
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Sulfates
  • Histidine
  • Heparin