Cellular retinoic acid binding protein I (CRABPI) belongs to the family of intracellular lipid binding proteins (iLBPs), all of which bind a hydrophobic ligand within an internal cavity. The structures of several iLBPs reveal minimal structural differences between the apo (ligand-free) and holo (ligand-bound) forms, suggesting that dynamics must play an important role in the ligand recognition and binding processes. Here, a variety of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy methods were used to systematically study the dynamics of both apo and holo CRABPI at various time scales. Translational and rotational diffusion constant measurements were used to study the overall motions of the proteins. Both apo and holo forms of CRABPI tend to self-associate at high (1.2 mM) concentrations, while at low concentrations (0.2 mM), they are predominantly monomeric. Rapid amide exchange rate and laboratory frame relaxation rate measurements at two spectrometer field strengths (500 and 600 MHz) were used to probe the internal motions of the individual residues. Several residues in the apo form, notably within the ligand recognition region, exhibit millisecond time scale motions that are significantly arrested in the holo form. In contrast, no significant differences in the high-frequency motions were observed between the two forms. These results provide direct experimental evidence for dynamics-induced ligand recognition and binding at a specifically defined time scale. They also exemplify the importance of dynamics in providing a more comprehensive understanding of how a protein functions.
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