We investigated the intracellular site of pro-von Willebrand factor (pro-vWF) cleavage and multimerization, as well as the fate of the propolypeptide (von Willebrand antigen II) after cleavage. Analysis of subcellular fractions of endothelial cells metabolically labeled with sulfate showed that both cleavage and covalent multimerization occur after sulfation and precede the formation of Weibel-Palade bodies. Because sulfation is a processing step localized to the trans-Golgi network (TGN), our results indicate that multimerization and prosequence cleavage also occur in this organelle. After cleavage, the propolypeptide remains noncovalently associated with the mature vWF subunit. This association is promoted by a high calcium concentration and an acidic pH (conditions thought to prevail in the TGN) and explains the 1:1 stoichiometry of the propolypeptide and mature vWF found in Weibel-Palade bodies. The propolypeptide remains an integral part of the large multimeric vWF aggregates in the Weibel-Palade body until secretion. When secretion occurs under slightly acidic conditions, such as may be found in poorly perfused wounds, the propolypeptide remains associated with the endothelial surface-bound vWF, and may thus participate in the wound healing process.

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