Disulfide analysis reveals a role for macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF) as thiol-protein oxidoreductase

Robert Kleemann, Aphrodite Kapurniotu, Rainer W. Frank, André Gessner, Ralf Mischke, Oliver Flieger, Stefan Jüttner, Herwig Brunner, Jürgen Bernhagen

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282 Scopus citations


The molecular mechanism of action of macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF), a cytokine with a critical role in the immune and inflammatory response, has not yet been identified. Here we report that MIF can function as an enzyme exhibiting thiol-protein oxidoreductase activity. Using a decapeptide fragment of MIF (MF1) spanning the conserved cysteine sequence motif Cys57-Ala-Leu-Cys60 (CALC), Cys→Ser mutants (C57S MIF, C60S MIF, and C57S/C60S MIF) of human MIF (wtMIF), and alkylated wtMIF, we show that this activity is mediated by the CALC region and is important for the macrophage-activating properties of MIF. Both wtMIF and MF1 were demonstrated to form an intramolecular disulfide bridge. Using two common oxido-reductase assays, MIF was shown to enzymatically catalyze the reduction of insulin and 2-hydroxyethyldisulfide (HED). Examination of wtMIF and the mutants by far-UV circular dichroism spectroscopy (CD) together with denaturation studies showed that substituting or reducing the cysteine residues of CALC led to a reduced conformational stability of MIF but did not significantly change its overall conformation. A functional role for the CALC region was revealed by subjecting the mutants and alkylated wtMIF to the enzymatic assays. Mutant C60S did not have any enzymatic activity while mutant C57S had a reduced activity. Thiol-modified wtMIF that was alkylated under oxidizing conditions was found to have full enzymatic activity, whereas alkylation of wtMIF under reducing conditions completely eliminated MIF-mediated redox activity. Importantly, further physiological relevance of the disulfide motif was obtained by examining the mutants and alkylated MIF in an immunological assay that involved the macrophage-activating properties of MIF. In this test, mutant C60S was essentially inactive and mutant C57S was partly active, indicating together that at least some of the cytokine-like biological activities of MIF are dependent on the presence of cysteine 57 and 60. Again, use of the alkylated MIF species confirmed the role of the cysteine motif for this MIF activity. In conclusion, our results argue (a) that MIF exhibits enzymatic oxidoreductase activity, (b) that this activity is dependent on the presence of the catalytic center that is formed by cysteine residues 57 and 60, and (c) that certain MIF-mediated immune processes are due to the cysteine-mediated redox mechanism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-102
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 3 Jul 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Cysteine mutants
  • Cytokine
  • Disulfide
  • Macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF)
  • Thiol-protein oxidoreductase


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