A structural basis for different antifreeze protein roles
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Antifreeze proteins (AFPs) are produced by a variety of organisms to either protect them from freezing or help them tolerate being frozen. Recent structural work has shown that AFPs bind to ice using ordered surface waters on a particular surface of the protein called the ice-binding site (IBS). These 'anchored clathrate' waters fuse to particular planes of an ice crystal and hence irreversibly bind the AFP to its ligand. An AFP isolated from the perennial ryegrass, Lolium perenne (LpAFP) was previously modelled as a right-handed beta helix with two proposed IBSs. Steric mutagenesis, where small side chains were replaced with larger ones, determined that only one of the putative IBSs was responsible for binding ice. The mutagenesis work also partly validated the fold of the computer-generated model of this AFP. In order to determine the structure of the protein, LpAFP was crystallized and solved to 1.4 Å resolution. The protein folds as an untwisted left-handed beta-helix, of opposite handedness to the model. The IBS identified by mutagenesis is remarkably flat, but less regular than the IBS of most other AFPs. Furthermore, several of the residues constituting the IBS are in multiple conformations. This irregularity may explain why LpAFP causes less thermal hysteresis than many other AFPs. Its imperfect IBS is also argued to be responsible for LpAFP's heightened ice-recrystallization inhibition activity. The structure of LpAFP is the first for a plant AFP and for a protein responsible for providing freeze tolerance rather than freeze resistance. To help understand what constitutes an IBS, a non-ice-binding homologue of type III AFP, sialic acid synthase (SAS), was engineered for ice binding. Point mutations were made to the germinal IBS of SAS to mimic key features seen in type III AFP. The crystal structures of some of the mutant proteins showed that the potential IBS became less charged and flatter as the mutations progressed, and ice affinity was gained. This proof-of-principle study highlights some of the difficulties in AFP engineering.