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Blood. 2002 Mar 15;99(6):1894-901.

Processing of the lipocalin alpha(1)-microglobulin by hemoglobin induces heme-binding and heme-degradation properties.

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Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, University Hospital, Lund University, S-221 84 Lund, Sweden.


Alpha(1)-microglobulin is a 26-kd protein, widespread in plasma and tissues and well-conserved among vertebrates. Alpha(1)-microglobulin belongs to the lipocalins, a protein superfamily with highly conserved 3-dimensional structures, forming an internal ligand binding pocket. The protein, isolated from urine, has a heterogeneous yellow-brown chromophore bound covalently to amino acid side groups around the entrance of the lipocalin pocket. Alpha(1)-microglobulin is found in blood both in free form and complex-bound to immunoglobulin A (IgA) via a half-cystine residue at position 34. It is shown here that an alpha(1)-microglobulin species, which we name t-alpha(1)-microglobulin (t = truncated), with a free Cys34 thiol group, lacking its C-terminal tetrapeptide, LIPR, and with a more polar environment around the entrance of the lipocalin pocket, is released from IgA-alpha(1)-microglobulin as well as from free alpha(1)-microglobulin when exposed to the cytosolic side of erythrocyte membranes or to purified oxyhemoglobin. The processed t-alpha(1)-microglobulin binds heme and the alpha(1)-microglobulin-heme complex shows a time-dependent spectral rearrangement, suggestive of degradation of heme concomitantly with formation of a heterogeneous chromophore associated with the protein. The processed t-alpha(1)-microglobulin is found in normal and pathologic human urine, indicating that the cleavage process occurs in vivo. The results suggest that alpha(1)-microglobulin is involved in extracellular heme catabolism.

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