Human Cellular Retinol Binding Protein II Forms a Domain-Swapped Trimer Representing a Novel Fold and a New Template for Protein Engineering

Chembiochem. 2020 Nov 16;21(22):3192-3196. doi: 10.1002/cbic.202000405. Epub 2020 Aug 14.


Domain-swapping is a mechanism for evolving new protein structure from extant scaffolds, and has been an efficient protein-engineering strategy for tailoring functional diversity. However, domain swapping can only be exploited if it can be controlled, especially in cases where various folds can coexist. Herein, we describe the structure of a domain-swapped trimer of the iLBP family member hCRBPII, and suggest a mechanism for domain-swapped trimerization. It is further shown that domain-swapped trimerization can be favored by strategic installation of a disulfide bond, thus demonstrating a strategy for fold control. We further show the domain-swapped trimer to be a useful protein design template by installing a high-affinity metal binding site through the introduction of a single mutation, taking advantage of its threefold symmetry. Together, these studies show how nature can promote oligomerization, stabilize a specific oligomer, and generate new function with minimal changes to the protein sequence.

Keywords: domain-swapped trimers; human cellular retinol binding protein II; metalloproteins; protein engineering.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Crystallography, X-Ray
  • Humans
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Engineering*
  • Protein Folding
  • Retinol-Binding Proteins, Cellular / chemistry*


  • Retinol-Binding Proteins, Cellular