Probing conformational changes of human serum albumin due to unsaturated fatty acid binding by chemical cross-linking and mass spectrometry

Biochem J. 2005 May 1;387(Pt 3):695-702. doi: 10.1042/BJ20041624.


Mass spectrometry with chemical cross-linking was used to probe the conformational changes of HSA (human serum albumin) in solution on interaction with monounsaturated OA (oleic acid) or polyunsaturated AA (arachidonic acid) or DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Fatty acid-free or -bound HSA was modified with lysine-specific cross-linkers and digested with trypsin. Cross-linked peptides were analysed by nano-electrospray ionization MS to localize the sites of cross-linking. Our data indicated that a local conformational change involving movement of the side chains of Lys-402 of subdomain IIIA or Lys-541 of subdomain IIIB occurred upon binding of all three fatty acids. Our data also indicated that the side chains of Lys-205 (IIA) and Lys-466 (IIIA) moved closer towards each other upon binding AA or DHA, but not OA, suggesting that the conformations of HSA when bound to mono- and poly-unsaturated fatty acids are distinctively different. While these observations agreed with previous X-ray crystallographic studies, the distances between epsilon-amino groups of most cross-linked lysine pairs were shorter than the crystal structure predicted, possibly reflecting a discrepancy between the solution and crystal structures. This method can serve as a useful complement to X-ray crystallography, particularly in probing the structure of a protein in solution.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Arachidonic Acid / chemistry*
  • Cross-Linking Reagents
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Oleic Acid / chemistry*
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Serum Albumin / chemistry*


  • Cross-Linking Reagents
  • Serum Albumin
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • Arachidonic Acid
  • Oleic Acid