The G401 cell line derived from a rhabdoid tumor of the kidney secretes the heparin-binding growth factors midkine and pleiotrophin. Both proteins act as mitogens for diverse cells, but only midkine serves as an autocrine mitogen for G401 tumor cells. We show that midkine specifically binds a protein or complex of molecular mass greater than 200 kDa with high affinity (K(d) = 0.07 ± 0.01 nM). Midkine, but not pleiotrophin, stimulates tyrosine phosphorylation of several cellular proteins with molecular mass of 100, 130, and 200+ kDa. Upon midkine binding, the midkine-receptor complex associates with the Janus tyrosine kinases, JAK1 and JAK2. MK stimulates tyrosine phosphorylation of JAK1, JAK2, and STAT1α. Our initial characterization of the midkine receptor suggests that midkine autocrine stimulation of tumor cell proliferation is mediated by a cell-surface receptor which in turn might activate the JAK/STAT pathway.
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