Microsomal enzymes that catalyze the first step in the biosynthesis of retinoic acid from retinal, retinol dehydrogenases (RDHs), access retinol bound to cellular retinol-binding protein (CRBP). This study tested the hypothesis that the RDHs interact with the region in CRBP designated as the 'helical cap' by evaluating single site-directed mutations, namely, L29A, I32E, L35A, L35E, L35R, L36A, F57A, R58A, and R58E. UV analysis showed mutants had similar conformations of retinol in their binding pockets. Nevertheless, the mutants bound retinol with affinities 2-5-fold lower than wild type, except for L35 mutants, which had affinities similar to wild type. All mutants' holoforms had more relaxed conformations about their helical caps, judged by sensitivity to partial protease digestion. Mutants showed no significant differences in K(m) values, but two (L36A, R58A) had increased V(m) values and L35 mutants had decreased V(m) values. Overall, the data indicate that the residues tested contribute in varying degrees to CRBP rigidity, retinol binding, and RDH recognition/access to bound retinol. The extent of contributions can be distinguished for several residues. For example, L35 mutants had lower k(cat) values than wild-type CRBP; thus, L35 seems important for RDH access to retinol. F57, on the other hand, a suspected key residue in controlling retinol entrance/exit, does not make a singular contribution to retinol binding. These results suggest a role for the helical cap region as a locus for RDH interaction and as a portal for ligand access to CRBP, and show that the affinity (K(d)) of CRBP for retinol alone does not determine the efficiency of holo-CRBP as substrate. These are the first experimental data of enzyme recognition by a specific exterior residue of CRBP (L35).
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