Aims: The potential receptor for hydrogen sulfide (H2S) remains unknown.
Results: H2S could directly activate vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 2 (VEGFR2) and that a small interfering RNA (siRNA)-mediated knockdown of VEGFR2 inhibited H2S-induced migration of human vascular endothelial cells. H2S promoted angiogenesis in Matrigel plug assay in mice and this effect was attenuated by a VEGF receptor inhibitor. Using tandem mass spectrometry (MS), we identified a new disulfide complex located between Cys1045 and Cys1024 within VEGFR2 that was labile to H2S-mediated modification. Kinase activity of the mutant VEGFR2 (C1045A) devoid of the Cys1045-Cys1024 disulfide bond was significantly higher than wild-type VEGFR2. Transfection with vectors expressing VEGFR2 (C1045A) caused a significant increase in cell migration, while the migration-promoting effect of H2S disappeared in the cells transfected with VEGFR2 (C1045A). Therefore, the Cys1045-Cys1024 disulfide bond serves as an intrinsic inhibitory motif and functions as a molecular switch for H2S. The formation of the Cys1045-Cys1024 disulfide bond disrupted the integrity of the active conformation of VEGFR2. Breaking the Cys1045-Cys1024 disulfide bond recovered the active conformation of VEGFR2. This motif was prone to a nucleophilic attack by H2S via an interaction of their frontier molecular orbitals. siRNA-mediated knockdown of cystathionine γ-lyase attenuated migration of vascular endothelial cells induced by VEGF or moderate hypoxia.
Innovation and conclusion: The study provides the first piece of evidence of a molecular switch in H2S-targeting receptor protein kinase in H2S-induced angiogenesis and that may be applicable to additional kinases containing functionally important disulfide bonds in mediating various H2S actions.