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J Biol Chem. 1992 Jul 15;267(20):14077-83.

Evidence that a salt bridge in the light chain contributes to the physical stability difference between heavy and light human ferritins.

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Department of Biomedical Science and Technology, University of Milano, San Raffaele Hospital, Italy.


Human ferritin, a multimeric iron storage protein, is composed by various proportions of two subunit types: the H- and L-chains. The biological functions of these two genic products have not been clarified, although differences in reactivity with iron have been shown. Starting from the hypothesis that the high stability typical of ferritin is an important property which may be relevant for its iron storage function, we studied ferritin homopolymers of H- and L-chains in different denaturing conditions. In addition we analyzed 13 H-chain variants with alterations in regions conserved within mammalian H-chains. In all the denaturation experiments H-chain ferritin showed lower stability than L-chain ferritin. The difference was greater in guanidine HCl denaturation experiments, where the end products are fully unfolded peptides, than in acidic denaturation experiments, where the end products are peptides with properties analogous to "molten globule." The study on H-chain variants showed: (i) ferritin stability was not affected by alterations of regions exposed to the inner or outer surface of the shell and not involved in intra- or inter-chain interactions; (ii) stability was reduced by alterations of sequences involved in inter-subunit interactions such as the deletion of the N-terminal extension or substitutions along the hydrophobic and hydrophilic channels; (iii) stability was increased by the substitution of 2 amino acids inside the four-helix bundle with those of the homologous L-chain. One of the residues is involved in a salt bridge in the L-chain, and we concluded that the stability difference between H- and L-ferritins is to a large extent due to the stabilizing effect of this salt bridge on the L-subunit fold.

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