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Chem Biol Interact. 2009 Jul 15;180(2):131-42. doi: 10.1016/j.cbi.2009.03.019. Epub 2009 Apr 5.

Cytotoxic aggregates of alpha-lactalbumin induced by unsaturated fatty acid induce apoptosis in tumor cells.

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State Key Laboratory of Virology, College of Life Sciences, Wuhan University, Wuhan 430072, China.


The effects of three fatty acids on cytotoxic aggregate formation of Ca(2+)-depleted bovine alpha-lactalbumin (apo-BLA) have been studied by UV absorbance spectroscopy and transmission electron microscopy. The experimental results demonstrate that two unsaturated fatty acids, oleic acid and linoleic acid, and one saturated fatty acid, stearic acid, induce the intermediate of apo-BLA at pH 4.0-4.5 to form amorphous aggregates in time- and concentration-dependent manners. These aggregates are dissolved under physiological conditions at 37 degrees C and further characterized by fluorescence spectroscopy, circular dichroism and time-of-flight mass spectrometry. Our data here indicate that the structural characteristics of these aggregates are similar to those of HAMLET/BAMLET (human/bovine alpha-lactalbumin made lethal to tumor cells), a complex of the partially unfolded alpha-lactalbumin with oleic acid. Cell viability experiments indicate the aggregates of apo-BLA induced by oleic acid and linoleic acid show significant dose-dependent cytotoxicity to human lung tumor cells of A549 but those induced by stearic acid have no toxicity to tumor cells. Furthermore, the cytotoxic aggregates of apo-BLA induced by both unsaturated fatty acids induce apoptosis of human lung cancer cell line A549, suggesting that such cytotoxic aggregates of apo-BLA could be potential antitumor drugs. The present study provides insight into the mechanism of fatty acid-dependent oligomerization and cytotoxicity of alpha-lactalbumin, and will be helpful in the understanding of the molecular mechanism of HAMLET/BAMLET formation.

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