Plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 (PAI-1) is the fast-acting inhibitor of both tissue-type and urokinase-type plasminogen activators (t-PA, u- PA) and is an essential regulatory protein of the fibrinolytic system. In the presence of either the protein vitronectin or the glycosaminoglycan heparin, PAI-1 is also an efficient inhibitor of thrombin. To assess whether these cofactors turn PAI-1 into a general protease inhibitor or whether their influence is restricted to thrombin, the second-order association rate constants between PAI-1 and the human plasma proteases t-PA, u-PA, plasmin, thrombin, Factor Xa (FXa), and Factor XIIa (FXIIa) in the absence and in the presence of either vitronectin or heparin are determined. In addition, the role of the PAI-1 reactive site P3 to P3′ residues for the specificity of inhibition was studied by using PAI-1 reactive site mutants. Our results show that: (1) Heparin exclusively increases the rate of inhibition of thrombin by PAI-1, whereas in the presence of heparin the rate of inhibition of the other proteases is not altered; (2) Vitronectin is an obligatory cofactor for the inhibition of thrombin by PAI-1. In addition, vitronectin moderately increases the rate of inhibition by PAI-1 of u-PA and of plasmin, but does not alter the rate of inhibition of t-PA, FXa, or FXIIa; (3) Apart from the important role of the P1 residue, no consensus can be presented on the nature of other residues within the P3 to P3′ region with regard to target protease specificity.

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