Division of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, and Department of Medical Biophysics, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario M4N 3M5, Canada
Genome Biology 2008, 9:224 doi:10.1186/gb-2008-9-5-224Published: 22 May 2008
Glypicans are heparan sulfate proteoglycans that are bound to the outer surface of the plasma membrane by a glycosyl-phosphatidylinositol anchor. Homologs of glypicans are found throughout the Eumetazoa. There are six family members in mammals (GPC1 to GPC6). Glypicans can be released from the cell surface by a lipase called Notum, and most of them are subjected to endoproteolytic cleavage by furin-like convertases. In vivo evidence published so far indicates that the main function of membrane-attached glypicans is to regulate the signaling of Wnts, Hedgehogs, fibroblast growth factors and bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs). Depending on the context, glypicans may have a stimulatory or inhibitory activity on signaling. In the case of Wnt, it has been proposed that the stimulatory mechanism is based on the ability of glypicans to facilitate and/or stabilize the interaction of Wnts with their signaling receptors, the Frizzled proteins. On the other hand, GPC3 has recently been reported to inhibit Hedgehog protein signaling during development by competing with Patched, the Hedgehog receptor, for Hedgehog binding. Surprisingly, the regulatory activity of glypicans in the Wnt, Hedgehog and BMP signaling pathways is only partially dependent on the heparan sulfate chains.