Alpha-2-macroglobulin is an abundant secreted protein that is of particular interest because of its diverse ligand binding profile and multifunctional nature, which includes roles as a protease inhibitor and as a molecular chaperone. The activities of alpha-2-macroglobulin are typically dependent on whether its conformation is native or transformed (i.e. adopts a more compact conformation after interactions with proteases or small nucleophiles), and are also influenced by dissociation of the native alpha-2-macroglobulin tetramer into stable dimers. Alpha-2-macroglobulin is predominately present as the native tetramer in vivo; once purified from human blood plasma, however, alpha-2-macroglobulin can undergo a number of conformational changes during storage, including transformation, aggregation or dissociation. We demonstrate that, particularly in the presence of sodium chloride or amine containing compounds, freezing and/or lyophilization of alpha-2-macroglobulin induces conformational changes with functional consequences. These conformational changes in alpha-2-macroglobulin are not always detected by standard native polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, but can be measured using bisANS fluorescence assays. Increased surface hydrophobicity of alpha-2-macroglobulin, as assessed by bisANS fluorescence measurements, is accompanied by (i) reduced trypsin binding activity, (ii) increased chaperone activity, and (iii) increased binding to the surfaces of SH-SY5Y neurons, in part, via lipoprotein receptors. We show that sucrose (but not glycine) effectively protects native alpha-2-macroglobulin from denaturation during freezing and/or lyophilization, thereby providing a reproducible method for the handling and long-term storage of this protein.