Individual Smad2 linker region phosphorylation sites determine the expression of proteoglycan and glycosaminoglycan synthesizing genes

Cell Signal. 2019 Jan;53:365-373. doi: 10.1016/j.cellsig.2018.11.005. Epub 2018 Nov 10.


Growth factors such as thrombin and transforming growth factor (TGF)-β facilitate glycosaminoglycan (GAG) chain hyperelongation on proteoglycans, a phenomenon that increases lipoprotein binding in the vessel wall and the development of atherosclerosis. TGF-β signals via canonical carboxy terminal phosphorylation of R-Smads and also non-canonical linker region phosphorylation of R-Smads. The G protein coupled receptor agonist, thrombin, can transactivate the TGF-β receptor leading to both canonical and non-canonical Smad signalling. Linker region phosphorylation drives the expression of genes for the synthesis of the proteoglycan, biglycan. Proteoglycan synthesis involves core protein synthesis, the initiation of GAG chains and the subsequent elongation of GAG chains. We have explored the relationship between the thrombin stimulated phosphorylation of individual serine and threonine sites in the linker region of Smad2 and the expression of GAG initiation xylosyltransferase-1 (XT-1) and GAG elongation chondroitin 4-sulfotransferase-1 (C4ST-1) and chondroitin synthase-1 (CHSY-1) genes. Thrombin stimulated the phosphorylation of all four target residues (Thr220, Ser245, Ser250 and Ser255 residues) with a similar temporal pattern - phosphorylation was maximal at 15 min (the earliest time point studied) and the level of the phospho-proteins declined thereafter over the following 4 h. Jnk, p38 and PI3K, selectively mediated the phosphorylation of the Thr220 residue whereas the serine residues were variously phosphorylated by multiple kinases. Thrombin stimulated the expression of all three genes - XT-1, C4ST-1 and CHSY-1. The three pathways mediating Thr220 phosphorylation were also involved in the expression of XT-1. The target pathways (excluding Jnk) were involved in the expression of the GAG elongation genes (C4ST-1 and CHSY-1). These findings support the contention that individual Smad linker region phosphorylation sites are linked to the expression of genes for the initiation and elongation of GAG chains on proteoglycans. The context of this work is that a specific inhibitor of GAG elongation represents a potential therapeutic agent for preventing GAG elongation and lipid binding and the results indicate that the specificity of the pathways is such that it might be therapeutically feasible to specifically target GAG elongation without interfering with other physiological processes with which proteoglycans are involved.

Keywords: G proteins; G-protein coupled receptors; Serine/threonine kinase receptors; Smad; Smad linker region; Transactivation signalling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cells, Cultured
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Glycosaminoglycans / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Phosphorylation
  • Proteoglycans / genetics*
  • Smad2 Protein / chemistry
  • Smad2 Protein / metabolism*
  • Thrombin / metabolism


  • Glycosaminoglycans
  • Proteoglycans
  • SMAD2 protein, human
  • Smad2 Protein
  • Thrombin