A carotenoid binding protein (CBP) has been isolated from the silk glands of Bombyx mori larvae. The protein has an apparent molecular mass of 33 kDa and binds carotenoids in a 1:1 molar ratio. Lutein accounts for 90% of the bound carotenoids, whereas α-carotene and β-carotene are minor components. Immunological analysis demonstrated the presence of CBP only in the yellow-colored tissues of the silk gland, midgut, testis, and ovary. Several phenotypes of B. mori mutants linked to carotenoid transport have been utilized to characterize CBP. The Y (yellow hemolymph) gene controls uptake of carotenoids from the midgut lumen into the midgut epithelium, and larvae with the +Y gene lack this property. Immunoblotting analysis confirmed the presence of CBP in mutants with the dominant Y gene only. Immunohistochemistry verified the localization of CBP in the villi of the midgut epithelium, indicating that CBP might be involved in absorption of carotenoids. A cDNA clone for CBP encoding a protein of 297 amino acids has been isolated from the B. mori silk gland cDNA library. The deduced amino acid sequence revealed that CBP is a novel member of the steroidogenic acute regulatory (StAR) protein family with its unique structural feature of a StAR-related lipid transfer domain, known to aid in lipid transfer and recognition. Lutein-binding capacity of the recombinant CBP (rCBP) determined by incubating rCBP with lutein followed by immunoprecipitation using anti-CBP IgG conjugated to protein A-Sepharose, demonstrated the formation of a lutein-rCBP complex. Sequence analyses coupled with binding specificity suggest that CBP is a new member of the StAR protein family that binds carotenoids rather than cholesterol.
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