Multiple molecular recognition properties of the lipocalin protein family

Darren R Flower

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The lipocalins, a diverse family of small extracellular ligand proteins, display a remarkable range of different molecular properties. While their binding of small hydrophobic molecules, and to a lesser extent their binding to cell surface receptors, is well known, it is shown here that formation of macromolecular complexes is also a common feature of this family. Analysis of known crystallographic structures reveals that the lipocalins process a conserved common structure: an antiparallel β-barrel with a repeated +1 topology. Comparisons show that within this overall similarity the structure of individual proteins is specifically adapted to bind their particular ligands, forming a binding site from an internal cavity (within the barrel) and/or an external loop scaffold, which gives rise to different binding modes that reflects the need to accommodate ligands of different shape, size, and chemical structure. The architecture of the lipocalin fold suggests that the both the ends and sides of this barrel are topologically distinct, differences also apparent in analyses of structural and sequence variation within the family. These different can be linked to experimental evidence suggesting a possible functional dichotomy between the two ends of the lipocalin fold. The structurally invariant end of the molecule may be implicated in general binding small ligands and forming macromolecular complexes via an exposed binding surface.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-195
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Molecular Recognition
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 1995


  • lipocalin
  • protein fold
  • structural polarity
  • ligand binding
  • macromolecular complex
  • cell binding


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