Apolipoprotein-D is a glycosylated tetrameric lipocalin that binds and transports small hydrophobic molecules such as progesterone and arachidonic acid. Like other lipocalins, apolipoprotein-D adopts an eight-stranded β-barrel fold stabilized by two intramolecular disulphide bonds, with an adjacent α-helix. Crystallography studies of recombinant apolipoprotein-D demonstrated no major conformational changes upon progesterone binding. Amide hydrogen-deuterium exchange mass spectrometry (HDX-MS) reports structural changes of proteins in solution by monitoring exchange of amide hydrogens in the protein backbone with deuterium. HDX-MS detects changes in conformation and structural dynamics in response to protein function such as ligand binding that may go undetected in X-ray crystallography, making HDX-MS an invaluable orthogonal technique. Here, we report an HDX-MS protocol for apolipoprotein-D that solved challenges of high protein rigidity and low pepsin cleavage using rigorous quenching conditions and longer deuteration times, yielding 85% sequence coverage and 50% deuterium exchange. The relative fractional deuterium exchange of ligand-free apolipoprotein-D revealed apolipoprotein-D to be a highly structured protein. Progesterone binding was detected by significant reduction in deuterium exchange in eight peptides. Stabilization of apolipoprotein-D dynamics can be interpreted as a combined orthosteric effect in the ligand binding pocket and allosteric effect at the N-terminus and C-terminus. Together, our experiments provide insight into apolipoprotein-D structural dynamics and map the effects of progesterone binding that are relayed to distal parts of the protein. The observed stabilization of apolipoprotein-D dynamics upon progesterone binding demonstrates a common behaviour in the lipocalin family and may have implications for interactions of apolipoprotein-D with receptors or lipoprotein particles. Statement: We reveal for the first time how apolipoprotein-D, which is protective in Alzheimer's disease, becomes more ordered when bound to a molecule of steroid hormone. These results significantly extend the understanding of apolipoprotein-D structure from X-ray crystallography studies by incorporating information on how protein motion changes over time. To achieve these results an improved protocol was developed, suitable for proteins similar to apolipoprotein-D, to elucidate how proteins change flexibility when binding to small molecules.
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