• Protein binding;
  • Bioconcentration;
  • Molecular biology;
  • Equilibria;
  • Perfluorochemicals


Perfluorocarboxylic acids (PFCAs) of chain length greater than seven carbon atoms bioconcentrate in the livers of fish. However, a mechanistic cause for the empirically observed increase in the bioconcentration potential of PFCAs as a function of chain length has yet to be determined. To this end, recombinant rat liver fatty acid-binding protein (L-FABP) was purified, and its interaction with PFCAs was characterized in an aqueous system at pH 7.4. Relative binding affinities of L-FABP with PFCAs of carbon chain lengths of five to nine were established fluorimetrically. The energetics, mechanism, and stoichiometry of the interaction of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) with L-FABP were examined further by isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC) and electrospray ionization combined with tandem mass spectrometry (ESI-MS/MS). Perfluorooctanoic acid was shown to bind to L-FABP with an affinity approximately an order of magnitude less than the natural ligand, oleic acid, and to have at least 3:1 PFOA:L-FABP stoichiometry. Two distinct modes of PFOA binding to L-FABP were observed by ESI-MS/MS analysis; in both cases, PFOA binds solely as the neutral species under typical physiological pH and aqueous concentrations of the anion. A comparison of their chemical and physical properties with other well-studied biologically relevant chemicals showed that accumulation of PFCAs in proteins as the neutral species is predictable. For example, the interaction of PFOA with L-FABP is almost identical to that of the acidic ionizing drugs ketolac, ibuprofen, and warfarin that show specificity to protein partitioning with a magnitude that is proportional to the KOW (octanol–water partitioning) of the neutral species. The experimental results suggest that routine pharmacochemical models may be applicable to predicting the protein-based bioaccumulation of long-chain PFCAs. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2010; 29:1669–1677. © 2010 SETAC