The anion-binding properties of lactoferrin (Lf), with Fe3+ or Cu2+ as the associated metal ion, have been investigated by physicochemical and crystallographic techniques. These highlight differences between the two sites and in the anion-binding behavior when different metals are bound. Carbonate, oxalate, and hybrid carbonate-oxalate complexes have been prepared and their characteristic electronic and EPR spectra recorded. Oxalate can displace carbonate from either one or both anion sites of Cu2(CO3)2Lf, depending on the oxalate concentration, but no such displacement occurs for Fe2(C03)2Lf. Addition of oxalate and the appropriate metal ion to apoLf under carbonate-free conditions gives dioxalate complexes with both Fe3+ and Cu2+, except when traces of EDTA remain associated with the protein, when hybrid complexes M2(CO3)(C204)Lf can result. The anion sites in the crystal structures of Fe2(CO3)2Lf, Cu2-(C03)2Lf, and Cu2(CO3)(C2O4)Lf, refined at 2.2, 2.1, and 2.2 Å, respectively, have been compared. In every case, the anion is hydrogen bonded to the N-terminus of helix 5, an associated arginine side chain, and a nearby threonine side chain. The carbonate ion binds in bidentate fashion to the metal, except in the N-lobe site of dicupric lactoferrin, where it is monodentate; the difference arises from slight movement of the metal ion. The hybrid complex shows that the oxalate ion binds preferentially in the C-lobe site, in 1, 2-bidentate mode, but with the displacement of several nearby side chains. These observations lead to a generalized model for synergistic anion binding by transferrins.
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