Adult male mouse submaxillary glands served as the preferred starting material for the isolation of the nerve growth factor (NGF) proteins in most of the isolation studies done. Two types of NGF proteins were isolated from extracts of the gland, a high-molecular-weight 7S NGF complex and a low-molecular-weight protein variously called NGF, βNGF, or 2.5S NGF. The latter, which mediated all known biological functions of NGF, were closely related forms of a basic NGF dimer in which the N and C termini of two monomers (chains) were modified by proteolytic enzymes to different extents with no effect on biological activity. The βNGF dimer showed a novel protein structure in which the two chains interacted non-covalently over a wide surface. Correspondingly, the βNGF dimer was found to be unusually stable and the form through which NGFs actions were mediated at physiological concentrations. The βNGF dimer was one of three subunits in 7S NGF; the other two were the γ subunit, an arginine esteropeptidase or kallikrein, and the α subunit, an inactive kallikrein. Two zinc ions were also present in the complex and contributed greatly to its stability. There was much debate about whether 7S NGF was a specific protein complex of interacting subunits and, if so, what functions it might play in the biology of NGF. Observations of the inhibition of the enzyme activity of the γ subunit and of the biological activity of βNGF in 7S NGF were important in determining that 7S NGF was a naturally occurring complex and the sole source of NGF in the gland extract or in saliva. Specific interactions between the active site of the γ subunit and the C-terminal arginine residues of the NGF chains, confirmed in the three-dimensional structure of 7S NGF, suggested a role for the γ subunit in pro-NGF processing during the assembly of 7S NGF. In spite of the detailed knowledge of 7S NGF structure, no information on the role of this complex in the neurobiology of NGF has emerged. With the exception of the submaxillary gland of an African rodent, no other source of NGF has been convincingly shown to synthesize the α and γ subunits, and they may well be irrelevant to NGFs actions.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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