von Willebrand factor (VWF) and VWF-propeptide (VWFpp) are stored for secretion within specialized endothelial cell secretory organelles called Weibel-Palade bodies (WPBs). Protein kinase C (PKC) is a key signaling intermediary for a number of endothelial agonists that trigger the release of VWF, such as Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) and Shiga toxin Stx1B. While both agonists elevate intracellular free Ca2+ ([Ca2+]i) and simultaneously either signal through the novel, Ca2+-independent PKCδ (VEGF) or utilize the classical, Ca2+-dependent PKCα (Stx1B), there has been speculation whether an additional effector pathway may be operating during PKC-mediated VWF secretion. Phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA), an activator of both classical and novel protein kinase C (PKC) isoforms, is also a potent VWF secretagogue, and it is generally assumed that PMA-evoked VWF release arises from exocytosis of WPBs.


Here we present evidence that PMA elicits a dual-phased secretory response with an early (0-15 minutes) and a late (>15 minutes) stage. A large fraction of the early phase of PMA-evoked VWF and VWFpp secretion arises from a cycloheximide (CHX)-sensitive (i.e., nascent or non-storage) compartment, and can be blocked by pre-treatment with the broad spectrum PKC inhibitor bisindolylmaleimide I (BIS I). Histamine-induced VWFpp secretion during the early phase is insensitive to CHX or BIS I. VEGF induced a sharp rise of VWFpp secretion in the early phase and a much slower increase in the later phase. The early phase was also substantially reduced by CHX and BIS I, suggesting release from the same non-storage pool that is mobilized by PMA.

High speed imaging of WPB exocytosis and [Ca2+]i in cells expressing VWFpp-EGFP targeted to WPBs revealed that the majority of PMA- and VEGF-induced VWFpp secretion during the early phase did not originate from WPBs. Histamine stimulation was associated with a sharp rise in [Ca2+]i, followed by rapid exocytosis within seconds of 41.4±4.0% (mean±sem, n=12 cells, 322 fusion events) of fluorescent WPBs. PMA did not elevate [Ca2+]i, led to a slow gradual increase in fusion events after a long and highly variable delay (357±63 seconds) and resulted in release of 12.4±3.3% (n=13 cells, 133 fusion events) of VWFpp-EGFP labeled WPBs. VEGF induced a complex [Ca2+]i increase, and after considerable delay (37.8 ±5.9 seconds) this was followed by WPB release of 18.2±3.5% (n=14 cells, 181 fusion events) of fluorescent WPBs. Because all three stimuli release quantitatively similar amounts of VWFpp during the early phase, the discrepancy in the fractions of WPBs undergoing degranulation suggests that PKC signaling mobilizes VWFpp from a compartment other than WPBs.

Analysis of PMA-evoked VWFpp secretion showed that pre-treatment with the potent phospholipase D1/2 inhibitor 5-fluoro-2-indolyl des-chlorohalopemide (FIPI) significantly reduced the early, CHX-sensitive component of PMA-evoked VWFpp secretion, which suggests that this pool originates from the trans -Golgi network. Silencing of syntaxin-6, which we identify as a novel immature WPB-SNARE, and the recycling endosome regulator Rab11 revealed that PMA-evoked VWFpp secretion does not traverse through a non-classical post-Golgi compartment such as the recycling endosome on its way out.

During the late phase PMA leads to almost complete degranulation of WPBs, but the mechanism has so far remained elusive. Time-lapse imaging of PMA-, histamine- and VEGF-stimulated WPB degranulation showed that this was insensitive to CHX treatment. In support of a role in sensitizing WPB release towards [Ca2+]i we found that a short pre-treatment with PMA enhanced the ability of ionomycin to induce Ca2+-driven VWFpp secretion at sub-maximal but not maximal doses. PMA-potentiated, ionomycin-induced VWFpp secretion was insensitive to CHX, underscoring that this originated from WPBs.


Our data show that two pathways operate for rapid regulated secretion of VWF, one involving WPB exocytosis and the other, regulated by PKC activation, that accesses VWF and VWFpp in a late biosynthetic compartment, most likely the trans -Golgi network. Our findings also have significant implications for the mechanistic interpretation of data obtained from biochemical studies of WPB exocytosis induced by PMA, where secreted VWF has been assumed to arise solely from WPBs.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.