The glycolipid transfer protein (GLTP) superfamily is defined by the human GLTP fold that represents a novel motif for lipid binding and transfer and for reversible interaction with membranes, i.e., peripheral amphitropic proteins. Despite limited sequence homology with human GLTP, we recently showed that HET-C2 GLTP of Podospora anserina is organized conformationally as a GLTP fold. Currently, insights into the folding stability and conformational states that regulate GLTP fold activity are almost nonexistent. To gain such insights into the disulfide-less GLTP fold, we investigated the effect of a change in pH on the fungal HET-C2 GLTP fold by taking advantage of its two tryptophans and four tyrosines (compared to three tryptophans and 10 tyrosines in human GLTP). pH-induced conformational alterations were determined by changes in (i) intrinsic tryptophan fluorescence (intensity, emission wavelength maximum, and anisotropy), (ii) circular dichroism over the near-UV and far-UV ranges, including thermal stability profiles of the derivatized molar ellipticity at 222 nm, (iii) fluorescence properties of 1-anilinonaphthalene-8-sulfonic acid, and (iv) glycolipid intermembrane transfer activity monitored by Förster resonance energy transfer. Analyses of our recently determined crystallographic structure of HET-C2 (1.9 Å) allowed identification of side chain electrostatic interactions that contribute to HET-C2 GLTP fold stability and can be altered by a change in pH. Side chain interactions include numerous salt bridges and interchain cation interactions, but not intramolecular disulfide bridges. Histidine residues are especially important for stabilizing the local positioning of the two tryptophan residues and the conformation of adjacent chains. Induction of a low-pH-induced, molten globule-like state inhibited glycolipid intermembrane transfer by the HET-C2 GLTP fold.
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