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The stem cell factor (SCF) is a polypeptide ligand that is essential for the development of germ cells, hematopoietic progenitor cells, and melanocyte precursors. It binds to a tyrosine kinase membrane receptor that is encoded by the c-kit proto-oncogene. We have constructed an expression vector that directs the synthesis of the entire extracellular ligand-binding domain of the Kit/SCF receptor. When expressed and amplified in Chinese hamster ovary cells, a secreted 90-kDa glycoprotein could be harvested from the growth medium of the cells in a soluble form. This extracellular portion of the Kit/SCF receptor, denoted Kit-X, was recognized by antibodies specific to the SCF receptor; and when injected into animals, it raised antibodies that were reactive with the complete membrane form of the receptor. Direct binding and covalent cross-linking of radiolabeled SCF showed that Kit-X fully retained high affinity ligand binding and also underwent efficient dimerization in the presence of the ligand. The capacity of Kit-X to act as an antagonist of SCF was assayed on cultured cells that overexpress the receptor. Simultaneous addition of SCF and Kit-X to these cells resulted in a stoichiometric inhibition of SCF binding and a consequent decrease in autophosphorylation of the SCF receptor on tyrosine residues. The inhibition extended to later SCF-mediated responses, including the association of the receptor with phosphatidylinositol 3'-kinase and coupling to the Raf1 protein kinase. These results indicate that the recombinant ectodomain of the Kit-SCF receptor can be used as a specific antagonist of SCF actions and may enable detailed molecular analysis of ligand-receptor interactions.



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