The pH dependence of the β-galactoside binding activity of human galectin-1 (hGal-1) was investigated by fluorescence spectroscopy using lactose as a ligand. The obtained binding constant Kb was 2.94 ± 0.10 mM-1 at pH 7.5. The Kb value decreased at acidic pH with a midpoint of transition at pH 6.0 ± 0.1. To elucidate the molecular mechanism of the pH dependence, we investigated the structures of hGal-1 and its two His mutants (H44Q and H52Q) using fluorescence, circular dichroism, UV absorption, and UV resonance Raman spectroscopy. Analysis of the spectra has shown that the pKa values of His44 and His52 are 5.7 ± 0.2 and 6.3 ± 0.1, respectively. The protonation of His52 below pH 6.3 induces a small change in secondary structure and partly reduces the galactoside binding activity. On the other hand, the protonation of His44 below pH 5.7 exerts a cation-π interaction with Trp68 and largely diminishes the galactoside binding activity. With reference to the literature X-ray structures at pH 7.0 and 5.6, protonated His52 is proposed to move slightly away from the galactoside-binding region with a partial unfolding of the β-strand containing His52. On the other hand, protonated His44 becomes unable to form a hydrogen bond with galactoside and additionally induces a reorientation and/or displacement of Trp68 through cation-π interaction, leading to a loosening of the galactoside-binding pocket. These structural changes associated with His protonation are likely to be the origin of the pH dependence of the galactoside binding activity of hGal-1.
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