Achim Löf, Jochen P. Müller, Martin Benoit, Maria A. Brehm
The large multimeric plasma glycoprotein von Willebrand factor (VWF) is essential for primary hemostasis by recruiting platelets to sites of vascular injury. VWF multimers respond to elevated hydrodynamic forces by elongation, thereby increasing their adhesiveness to platelets. Thus, the activation of VWF is force-induced, as is its inactivation. Due to these attributes, VWF is a highly interesting system from a biophysical point of view, and is well suited for investigation using biophysical approaches. Here, we give an overview on recent studies that predominantly employed biophysical methods to gain novel insights into multiple aspects of VWF: Electron microscopy was used to shed light on the domain structure of VWF and the mechanism of VWF secretion. High-resolution stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy, atomic force microscopy (AFM), microscale thermophoresis and fluorescence correlation spectroscopy allowed identification of protein disulfide isomerase isoform A1 as the VWF dimerizing enzyme and, together with molecular dynamics simulations, postulation of the dimerization mechanism. Advanced mass spectrometry led to detailed identification of the glycan structures carried by VWF. Microfluidics was used to illustrate the interplay of force and VWF function. Results from optical tweezers measurements explained mechanisms of the force-dependent functions of VWF's domains A1 and A2 and, together with thermodynamic approaches, increased our understanding of mutation-induced dysfunctions of platelet-binding. AFM-based force measurements and AFM imaging enabled exploration of intermonomer interactions and their dependence on pH and divalent cations. These advances would not have been possible by the use of biochemical methods alone and show the benefit of interdisciplinary research approaches.