Nematode polyprotein allergens (NPAs) are an unusual class of lipid-binding proteins found only in nematodes. They are synthesized as large, tandemly repetitive polyproteins that are post-translationally cleaved into multiple copies of small lipid binding proteins with virtually identical fatty acid and retinol (Vitamin A)-binding characteristics. They are probably central to transport and distribution of small hydrophobic compounds between the tissues of nematodes, and may play key roles in nutrient scavenging, immunomodulation, and IgE antibody-based responses in infection. In some species the repeating units are diverse in amino acid sequence, but, in ascarid and filarial nematodes, many of the units are identical or near-identical. ABA-1A is the most common repeating unit of the NPA of Ascaris suum, and is closely similar to that of Ascaris lumbricoides, the large intestinal roundworm of humans. Immune responses to NPAs have been associated with naturally-acquired resistance to infection in humans, and the immune repertoire to them is under strict genetic control.
The solution structure of ABA-1A was determined by protein nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. The protein adopts a novel seven-helical fold comprising a long central helix that participates in two hollow four-helical bundles on either side. Discrete hydrophobic ligand-binding pockets are found in the N-terminal and C-terminal bundles, and the amino acid sidechains affected by ligand (fatty acid) binding were identified. Recombinant ABA-1A contains tightly-bound ligand(s) of bacterial culture origin in one of its binding sites.
This is the first mature, post-translationally processed, unit of a naturally-occurring tandemly-repetitive polyprotein to be structurally characterized from any source, and it belongs to a new structural class. NPAs have no counterparts in vertebrates, so represent potential targets for drug or immunological intervention. The nature of the (as yet) unidentified bacterial ligand(s) may be pertinent to this, as will our characterization of the unusual binding sites.
Parasitic nematode worms cause serious health problems in humans and other animals. They can induce allergic-type immune responses, which can be harmful but may at the same time protect against the infections. Allergens are proteins that trigger allergic reactions and these parasites produce a type that is confined to nematodes, the nematode polyprotein allergens (NPAs). These are synthesized as large precursor proteins comprising repeating units of similar amino acid sequence that are subsequently cleaved into multiple copies of the allergen protein. NPAs bind small lipids such as fatty acids and retinol (Vitamin A) and probably transport these sensitive and insoluble compounds between the tissues of the worms. Nematodes cannot synthesize these lipids, so NPAs may also be crucial for extracting nutrients from their hosts. They may also be involved in altering immune responses by controlling the lipids by which the immune and inflammatory cells communicate. We describe the molecular structure of one unit of an NPA, the well-known ABA-1 allergen of Ascaris, and find its structure to be of a type not previously found for lipid-binding proteins, and we describe the unusual sites where lipids bind within this structure.