First published July 1, 1985 - More info
von Willebrand factor (vWF), a multimeric protein that mediates platelet adhesion, circulates in association with the procoagulant Factor VIII (FVIII). In previous reports, plasmin was shown in vitro to inactivate FVIII and cleave the vWF subunit extensively, but to cause only a modest decrease in vWF platelet-agglutinating activity. In the present study, the digestion of vWF multimers by plasmin was analyzed by sodium dodecyl sulfate-agarose gel electrophoresis and radioimmunoblotting. In vitro, plasmin degraded the large vWF multimers to smaller forms that could be distinguished from the small multimers present before digestion only by a slightly increased electrophoretic mobility. These plasmin-cleaved "multimers" were composed of disulfide-linked fragments with no intact vWF subunits. Thus, many plasmin cleavages occur within disulfide loops. The slight increase in mobility of plasmin-digested vWF is in part explained by the early cleavage from the multimers of a 34,000-mol wt peptide, which was purified and partially sequenced. The amino-terminal sequence (33 residues) agrees with the previously reported sequence (15 residues) for the amino terminus of the intact vWF subunit. Analysis of plasmin-digested vWF allowed deduction of a model for the native vWF structure, including the approximate location of the interprotomer disulfide bond(s). To determine whether plasmin would digest vWF in vivo, plasmas from 12 patients and 2 normal volunteers who received intravenous streptokinase (SK) were analyzed. Rather than vWF digestion, a two- to threefold rise in vWF antigen and platelet-agglutinating activity occurred within 2 h after a single SK dose, and the increase was greatest among the largest multimers. In contrast, FVIII clotting activity dropped to 10-20% of pre-SK levels. Thus, although plasmin destroys FVIII, a pharmacologically induced fibrinolytic state is associated with significant release of vWF from endothelial cells, platelets, or some other storage pool.