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Biochemistry. 2007 Nov 20;46(46):13382-90. Epub 2007 Oct 24.

Transporter-to-trap conversion: a disulfide bond formation in cellular retinoic acid binding protein I mutant triggered by retinoic acid binding irreversibly locks the ligand inside the protein.

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Department of Chemistry and Molecular and Cellular Biology Program, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Amherst, Massachusetts 01003, USA.


Transport proteins must bind their ligands reversibly to enable release at the point of delivery, while irreversible binding is usually associated with the extreme cases of ligand sequestration. Protein conformational dynamics is an important modulator of binding kinetics, as increased flexibility in the regions adjacent to the binding site may facilitate both association and dissociation processes. Ligand entry to, and exit from, the internal binding site of the cellular retinoic acid binding protein I (CRABP I) occurs via a flexible portal region, which functions as a dynamic aperture. We designed and expressed a CRABP I mutant (A35C/T57C), in which a small-scale conformational switch caused by the ligand binding event triggers formation of a disulfide bond in the portal region, thereby arresting structural fluctuations and effectively locking the ligand inside the binding cavity. At the same time, no formation of the disulfide bond is observed in the apo form of the mutant, and most characteristics of the mutant, including protein stability, are very similar to those of the wild-type protein in the absence of retinoic acid. The mutation does not alter the kinetics of retinoic acid binding to the protein, although the disulfide formation makes the binding effectively irreversible, as suggested by the absence of retinoic acid transfer from the holo form of the mutant to lipid vesicles in the absence of a reducing agent. Taken together, these data suggest that the disulfide bond formation in the portal region arrests large-scale structural fluctuations, which are required for retinoic acid release from the protein. The unique properties of the CRABP I mutant described in this work can be used to inspire and guide a design of nanodevices for multiple tasks ranging from sequestering small-molecule toxins in both tissue and circulation to nutrient deprivation of pathogens.

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