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The rhomboids are a recently discovered family of intramembrane proteases that are conserved across evolution. Drosophila was the first organism in which they were characterized, where at least Rhomboids 1-3 activate EGF receptor signaling by releasing the active forms of EGF-like growth factors. Subsequent work has begun to shed light on the role of these proteases in bacteria and yeast, but nothing is known about the function of rhomboids in vertebrates beyond evidence that the subclass of mitochondrial rhomboids is conserved. Here, we report that the anticoagulant cell-surface protein thrombomodulin is the first mammalian protein to be a rhomboid substrate in a cell culture assay. The thrombomodulin transmembrane domain (TMD) is cleaved only by vertebrate RHBDL2-like rhomboids. Thrombomodulin TMD cleavage is directed not by sequences within the TMD, as is the case with Spitz but by its cytoplasmic domain, which, at least in some contexts, is necessary and sufficient to determine cleavage by RHBDL2. These data suggest that thrombomodulin could be a physiological substrate for rhomboid. Moreover, the discovery of a second mode of substrate recognition by rhomboids implies mechanistic diversity in this family of intramembrane proteases.

Original publication




Journal article


Curr Biol

Publication Date





236 - 241


Amino Acid Sequence, Animals, Blotting, Western, Cells, Cultured, Cytoplasm, Endopeptidases, Membrane Proteins, Mice, Molecular Sequence Data, Thrombomodulin