Bile acid-binding proteins (BABPs) are cytosolic lipid chaperones that play central roles in driving bile flow, as well as in the adaptation to various pathological conditions, contributing to the maintenance of bile acid homeostasis and functional distribution within the cell. Understanding the mode of binding of bile acids with their cytoplasmic transporters is a key issue in providing a model for the mechanism of their transfer from the cytoplasm to the nucleus, for delivery to nuclear receptors. A number of factors have been shown to modulate bile salt selectivity, stoichiometry, and affinity of binding to BABPs, e.g. chemistry of the ligand, protein plasticity and, possibly, the formation of disulfide bridges. Here, the effects of the presence of a naturally occurring disulfide bridge on liver BABP ligand-binding properties and backbone dynamics have been investigated by NMR. Interestingly, the disulfide bridge does not modify the protein-binding stoichiometry, but has a key role in modulating recognition at both sites, inducing site selectivity for glycocholic and glycochenodeoxycholic acid. Protein conformational changes following the introduction of a disulfide bridge are small and located around the inner binding site, whereas significant changes in backbone motions are observed for several residues distributed over the entire protein, both in the apo form and in the holo form. Site selectivity appears, therefore, to be dependent on protein mobility rather than being governed by steric factors. The detected properties further establish a parallelism with the behaviour of human ileal BABP, substantiating the proposal that BABPs have parallel functions in hepatocytes and enterocytes.
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