Transforming growth factor-betas (TGF-betas) are multifunctional growth factors that are secreted as inactive (latent) precursors in large protein complexes. These complexes include the latency-associated propeptide (LAP) and a latent transforming growth factor-beta binding protein (LTBP). Four isoforms of LTBPs (LTBP-1-LTBP-4) have been cloned and are believed to be structural components of connective tissue microfibrils and local regulators of TGF-beta tissue deposition and signaling. By using a gene trap strategy that selects for integrations into genes induced transiently during early mouse development, we have disrupted the mouse homolog of the human LTBP-4 gene. Mice homozygous for the disrupted allele develop severe pulmonary emphysema, cardiomyopathy, and colorectal cancer. These highly tissue-specific abnormalities are associated with profound defects in the elastic fiber structure and with a reduced deposition of TGF-beta in the extracellular space. As a consequence, epithelial cells have reduced levels of phosphorylated Smad2 proteins, overexpress c-myc, and undergo uncontrolled proliferation. This phenotype supports the predicted dual role of LTBP-4 as a structural component of the extracellular matrix and as a local regulator of TGF-beta tissue deposition and signaling.
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