Human high-density lipoproteins (HDLs) are a complex mixture of structurally related nanoparticles that perform distinct physiological functions. We previously showed that human HDL containing apolipoprotein A-I (APOA1) but not apolipoprotein A-II (APOA2), designated LpA-I, is composed primarily of two discretely sized populations. Here, we isolated these particles directly from human plasma by antibody affinity chromatography, separated them by high-resolution size-exclusion chromatography and performed a deep molecular characterization of each species. The large and small LpA-I populations were spherical with mean diameters of 109 Å and 91 Å, respectively. Unexpectedly, isotope dilution MS/MS with [15N]-APOA1 in concert with quantitation of particle concentration by calibrated ion mobility analysis demonstrated that the large particles contained fewer APOA1 molecules than the small particles; the stoichiometries were 3.0 and 3.7 molecules of APOA1 per particle, respectively. MS/MS experiments showed that the protein cargo of large LpA-I particles was more diverse. Human HDL and isolated particles containing both APOA1 and APOA2 exhibit a much wider range and variation of particle sizes than LpA-I, indicating that APOA2 is likely the major contributor to HDL size heterogeneity. We propose a ratchet model based on the trefoil structure of APOA1 whereby the helical cage maintaining particle structure has two "settings"-large and small-that accounts for these findings. This understanding of the determinants of HDL particle size and protein cargo distribution serves as a basis for determining the roles of HDL subpopulations in metabolism and disease states.
Keywords: HDL subfractions; composition; differential ion mobility analysis; high-density lipoprotein; isotope-dilution MS/MS; lipoproteins; mass spectrometry; ratchet model; size-exclusion chromatography.
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