Fibroblast growth factor

Fibroblast growth factor

Crystal structure analysis of the FGF10-FGFR2b complex
Symbol FGF
Pfam PF00167
Pfam clan CL0066
InterPro IPR002348
SCOP 1bas
CDD cd00058

Fibroblast growth factors, or FGFs, are a family of growth factors, with members involved in angiogenesis, wound healing, embryonic development and various endocrine signaling pathways. The FGFs are heparin-binding proteins and interactions with cell-surface-associated heparan sulfate proteoglycans have been shown to be essential for FGF signal transduction. FGFs are key players in the processes of proliferation and differentiation of wide variety of cells and tissues.


In humans, 22 members of the FGF family have been identified, all of which are structurally related signaling molecules:[1][2][3]


The mammalian fibroblast growth factor receptor family has 4 members, FGFR1, FGFR2, FGFR3, and FGFR4. The FGFRs consist of three extracellular immunoglobulin-type domains (D1-D3), a single-span trans-membrane domain and an intracellular split tyrosine kinase domain. FGFs interact with the D2 and D3 domains, with the D3 interactions primarily responsible for ligand-binding specificity (see below). Heparan sulfate binding is mediated through the D3 domain. A short stretch of acidic amino acids located between the D1 and D2 domains has auto-inhibitory functions. This 'acid box' motif interacts with the heparan sulfate binding site to prevent receptor activation in the absence of FGFs.

Alternate mRNA splicing gives rise to 'b' and 'c' variants of FGFRs 1, 2 and 3. Through this mechanism seven different signaling FGFR sub-types can be expressed at the cell surface. Each FGFR binds to a specific subset of the FGFs. Similarly most FGFs can bind to several different FGFR subtypes. FGF1 is sometimes referred to as the 'universal ligand' as it is capable of activating all 7 different FGFRs. In contrast, FGF7 (keratinocyte growth factor, KGF) binds only to FGFR2b (KGFR).

The signaling complex at the cell surface is believed to be a ternary complex formed between two identical FGF ligands, two identical FGFR subunits, and either one or two heparan sulfate chains.


Fibroblast growth factor was found in pituitary extracts by Armelin in 1973[11] and then was also found in a cow brain extract by Gospodarowicz, et al., and tested in a bioassay that caused fibroblasts to proliferate (first published report in 1974).[12]

They then further fractionated the extract using acidic and basic pH and isolated two slightly different forms that were named "acidic fibroblast growth factor" (FGF1) and "basic fibroblast growth factor" (FGF2). These proteins had a high degree of amino acid identity but were determined to be distinct mitogens. Human FGF2 occurs in low molecular weight (LMW) and high molecular weight (HMW) isoforms.[13] LMW FGF2 is primarily cytoplasmic and functions in an autocrine manner, whereas HMW FGF2s are nuclear and exert activities through an intracrine mechanism.

Not long after FGF1 and FGF2 were isolated, another group isolated a pair of heparin-binding growth factors that they named HBGF-1 and HBGF-2, while a third group isolated a pair of growth factors that caused proliferation of cells in a bioassay containing blood vessel endothelium cells, which they called ECGF1 and ECGF2. These proteins were found to be identical to the acidic and basic FGFs described by Gospodarowicz, et al.


FGFs are multifunctional proteins with a wide variety of effects; they are most commonly mitogens but also have regulatory, morphological, and endocrine effects. They have been alternately referred to as "pluripotent" growth factors and as "promiscuous" growth factors due to their multiple actions on multiple cell types.[14][15] Promiscuous refers to the biochemistry and pharmacology concept of how a variety of molecules can bind to and elicit a response from single receptor. In the case of FGF, four receptor subtypes can be activated by more than twenty different FGF ligands. Thus the functions of FGFs in developmental processes include mesoderm induction, antero-posterior patterning,[7] limb development, neural induction and neural development,[16] and in mature tissues/systems angiogenesis, keratinocyte organization, and wound healing processes.

FGF is critical during normal development of both vertebrates and invertebrates and any irregularities in their function leads to a range of developmental defects.[17][18][19][20]

FGFs secreted by hypoblasts during avian gastrulation play a role in stimulating a Wnt signaling pathway that is involved in the differential movement of Koller's sickle cells during formation of the primitive streak.[21]

FGF-1-induced angiogenesis in a human heart muscle. Left, angiography of the newly formed vascular network in the region of the front wall of the left ventricle. Right, analysis quantifying the angiogenic effect.[22]

One important function of FGF1 and FGF2 is the promotion of endothelial cell proliferation and the physical organization of endothelial cells into tube-like structures. They thus promote angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels from the pre-existing vasculature. FGF1 and FGF2 are more potent angiogenic factors than vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) or platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF).[23] FGF1 has been shown in clinical experimental studies to induce angiogenesis in the heart.[22]

As well as stimulating blood vessel growth, FGFs are important players in wound healing. FGF1 and FGF2 stimulate angiogenesis and the proliferation of fibroblasts that give rise to granulation tissue, which fills up a wound space/cavity early in the wound-healing process. FGF7 and FGF10 (also known as Keratinocyte Growth Factors KGF and KGF2, respectively) stimulate the repair of injured skin and mucosal tissues by stimulating the proliferation, migration and differentiation of epithelial cells, and they have direct chemotactic effects on tissue remodeling.

During the development of the central nervous system, FGFs play important roles in neural stem cell proliferation, neurogenesis, axon growth, and differentiation. FGF signaling is important in promoting surface area growth of the developing cerebral cortex by reducing neuronal differentiation and hence permitting the self-renewal of cortical progenitor cells, known as radial glial cells,[24] and FGF2 has been used to induce artificial gyrification of the mouse brain.[25] Another FGF family member, FGF8, regulates the size and positioning of the functional areas of the cerebral cortex (Brodmann's Areas).[26][27] FGFs are also important for maintenance of the adult brain. Thus, FGFs are major determinants of neuronal survival both during development and during adulthood.[28] Adult neurogenesis within the hippocampus e.g. depends greatly on FGF2. In addition, FGF1 and FGF2 seem to be involved in the regulation of synaptic plasticity and processes attributed to learning and memory, at least in the hippocampus.

The 15 paracrine FGFs are secreted proteins that bind heparan sulfate and can, therefore, be bound to the extracellular matrix of tissues that contain heparan sulfate proteoglycans. This local action of FGF proteins is classified as paracrine signalling, most commonly through the JAK-STAT signaling pathway or the Receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) pathway.

Members of the FGF19 subfamily (FGF15, FGF19, FGF21, and FGF23) bind less tightly to heparan sulfates, and so can act in an endocrine fashion on far-away tissues, such as intestine, liver, kidney, adipose, and bone.[9] For example:


The crystal structures of FGF1 have been solved and found to be related to interleukin 1-beta. Both families have the same beta trefoil fold consisting of 12-stranded beta-sheet structure, with the beta-sheets are arranged in 3 similar lobes around a central axis, 6 strands forming an anti-parallel beta-barrel.[31][32][33] In general, the beta-sheets are well-preserved and the crystal structures superimpose in these areas. The intervening loops are less well-conserved - the loop between beta-strands 6 and 7 is slightly longer in interleukin-1 beta.

Clinical applications

Dysregulation of the FGF signalling system underlies a range of diseases, where inhibitors of FGF signalling have shown clinical efficacy.[34] Some FGF ligands (particularly FGF2) have been demonstrated to enhance tissue repair, e.g., skin burns and ulcers, in a range of clinical settings.[35]

See also


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