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Biochemistry - Chemistry

On the Specificity of Heparin/Heparan Sulfate Binding to Proteins. Anion-Binding Sites on Antithrombin and Thrombin Are Fundamentally Different
Published: Monday, November 12, 2012
Author: Philip D. Mosier et al.

by Philip D. Mosier, Chandravel Krishnasamy, Glen E. Kellogg, Umesh R. Desai


The antithrombin–heparin/heparan sulfate (H/HS) and thrombin–H/HS interactions are recognized as prototypic specific and non-specific glycosaminoglycan (GAG)–protein interactions, respectively. The fundamental structural basis for the origin of specificity, or lack thereof, in these interactions remains unclear. The availability of multiple co-crystal structures facilitates a structural analysis that challenges the long-held belief that the GAG binding sites in antithrombin and thrombin are essentially similar with high solvent exposure and shallow surface characteristics.


Analyses of solvent accessibility and exposed surface areas, gyrational mobility, symmetry, cavity shape/size, conserved water molecules and crystallographic parameters were performed for 12 X-ray structures, which include 12 thrombin and 16 antithrombin chains. Novel calculations are described for gyrational mobility and prediction of water loci and conservation.


The solvent accessibilities and gyrational mobilities of arginines and lysines in the binding sites of the two proteins reveal sharp contrasts. The distribution of positive charges shows considerable asymmetry in antithrombin, but substantial symmetry for thrombin. Cavity analyses suggest the presence of a reasonably sized bifurcated cavity in antithrombin that facilitates a firm ‘hand-shake’ with H/HS, but with thrombin, a weaker ‘high-five’. Tightly bound water molecules were predicted to be localized in the pentasaccharide binding pocket of antithrombin, but absent in thrombin. Together, these differences in the binding sites explain the major H/HS recognition characteristics of the two prototypic proteins, thus affording an explanation of the specificity of binding. This provides a foundation for understanding specificity of interaction at an atomic level, which will greatly aid the design of natural or synthetic H/HS sequences that target proteins in a specific manner.