The Link Proteins

EXS. 1994;70:53-72. doi: 10.1007/978-3-0348-7545-5_5.


Aggregates of chondroitin-keratan sulfate proteoglycan (aggrecan) and hyaluronic acid (hyaluronan) are the major space-filling components of cartilage. A glycoprotein, link protein (LP; 40-48 kDa) stabilizes the aggregate by binding to both hyaluronic acid and aggrecan. In the absence of LP, aggregates are smaller (as estimated by rotary shadowing of electron micrographs) and less stable (they dissociate at pH 5) than they are in the presence of LP. The proteoglycan aggregate, including LP, is dissociated in the presence of chaotropes such as 4 M guanidine hydrochloride. On removal of the chaotrope, the complex will reassociate. This forms the basis of the isolation of LP from cartilage and has been described in detail elsewhere. Tryptic digestion of the proteoglycan aggregates results in a high molecular weight product that consists of hyaluronic acid to which is bound LP and the N-terminal globular domain of aggrecan (hyaluronic acid binding region; HABR) in a 1:1 stoichiometry. The amino acid sequences of LP and HABR are surprisingly similar. The amino acid sequence can be divided into three domains; an N-terminal domain that falls into the immunoglobulin super-family and two C-terminal domains that are similar to each other. The DNA structure echoes this similarity, in that the major domains are reflected in three separate exons in both LP and HABR. The two C-terminal domains are largely responsible for the association with HA and are related to two recently described hyaluronate-binding proteins, CD44 and TSG-6. A variety of approaches, including analysis of the forms of LP in vivo, rotary shadowing and analysis of the sequence in the immunoglobulin-like domain, have shed considerable light on the structure-function relationships of LP. This review describes the structure and function of LP in detail, focusing on what can be inferred from the similarity of LP, HABR and related molecules such as immunoglobulins and lymphocyte HA-receptors.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Cartilage / metabolism
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins*
  • Humans
  • Models, Structural
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Protein Structure, Secondary*
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Proteins / genetics
  • Proteins / metabolism*
  • Proteoglycans / chemistry
  • Proteoglycans / genetics
  • Proteoglycans / metabolism
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid


  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins
  • Proteins
  • Proteoglycans
  • link protein