Surfactant protein A (SP-A) constitutes an important part of the innate immune defense in the lung. In humans there are two functional genes (SP-A1 and SP-A2). The functional importance of having two distinct chain types in human SP-A is undefined. Amino acid substitutions in the primary structure of the protein may have effects on structural stability or on activity. To address this issue, SP-A1, SP-A2, and coexpressed SP-A1/SP-A2 variants were in vitro expressed in insect cells, purified, and used for study. We found the following: (1) Human SP-A variants expressed in insect cells, derived from one gene (SP-A1 or SP-A2) or both genes, differ in the relative extent and heterogeneity of oligomerization. SP-A1 and SP-A2 exist in small oligomeric forms, whereas coexpressed SP-A1/SP-A2 products favor the formation of larger oligomers. (2) Circular dichroic and fluorescence spectroscopic studies identified structural differences between SP-A variants in the collagen domain, with SP-A2 being more stable than SP-A1 but not in the calcium binding region. Recombinant human SP-A variants expressed in insect cells exhibit a lower melting temperature compared to native human SP-A. Oligomerization does not increase the thermal stability of the collagen domain of coexpressed SP-A1/SP-A2. (3) The ability of SP-A to undergo self-aggregation and induce phospholipid and bacterial lipopolysaccharide aggregation is greater for SP-A2 than for coexpressed SP-A1/SP-A2, which in turn is greater than that observed for SP-A1. The presence of SP-A1 polypeptide chains in coexpressed products modulates functional capabilities of SPA, which depend on both the collagen and globular domains.
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