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Keywords:

  • olfaction;
  • 11-cis vaccenyl acetate;
  • LUSH;
  • pheromone-binding proteins;
  • cyclodextrin;
  • tryptophan fluorescence

Abstract

Many pheromones have very low water solubility, posing experimental difficulties for quantitative binding measurements. A new method is presented for determining thermodynamically valid dissociation constants for ligands binding to pheromone-binding proteins, using β-cyclodextrin as a solubilizer and transfer agent. The method is applied to LUSH, a Drosophila odorant-binding protein that binds the pheromone 11-cis vaccenyl acetate (cVA). Refolding of LUSH expressed in Escherichia coli was assessed by measuring N-phenyl-1-naphthylamine (NPN) binding and Förster resonance energy transfer between LUSH tryptophan 123 (W123) and NPN. Binding of cVA was measured from quenching of W123 fluorescence as a function of cVA concentration. The equilibrium constant for transfer of cVA between β-cyclodextrin and LUSH was determined from a linked equilibria model. This constant, multiplied by the β-cyclodextrin-cVA dissociation constant, gives the LUSH-cVA dissociation constant: ∼100 nM. It was also found that other ligands quench W123 fluorescence. The LUSH-ligand dissociation constants were determined to be ∼200 nM for the silk moth pheromone bombykol and ∼90 nM for methyl oleate. The results indicate that the ligand-binding cavity of LUSH can accommodate a variety ligands with strong binding interactions. Implications of this for the Laughlin, Ha, Jones and Smith model of pheromone reception are discussed.