Molecular basis for retinol binding by serum amyloid A during infection

Zehan Hu, Ye Ji Bang, Kelly A. Ruhn, Lora V. Hooper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Serum amyloid A (SAA) proteins are strongly induced in the liver by systemic infection and in the intestine by bacterial colonization. In infected mice, SAA proteins circulate in association with the vitamin A derivative retinol, suggesting that SAAs transport retinol during infection. Here we illuminate a structural basis for the retinol–SAA interaction. In the bloodstream of infected mice, most SAA is complexed with high-density lipoprotein (HDL). However, we found that the majority of the circulating retinol was associated with the small fraction of SAA proteins that circulate without binding to HDL, thus identifying free SAA as the predominant retinol-binding form in vivo. We then determined the crystal structure of retinol-bound mouse SAA3 at a resolution of 2.2 Å. Retinol-bound SAA3 formed a novel asymmetric trimeric assembly that was generated by the hydrophobic packing of the conserved amphipathic helices α1 and α3. This hydrophobic packing created a retinol-binding pocket in the center of the trimer, which was confirmed by mutagenesis studies. Together, these findings illuminate the molecular basis for retinol transport by SAA proteins during infection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19077-19082
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number38
StatePublished - Sep 17 2019


  • Crystal structure
  • Immunity
  • Infection
  • Retinol
  • Vitamin A

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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