Tritrichomonas foetus is a common, sexually transmitted, protozoan parasite of cattle. It has an essential requirement for iron, which it obtains from host lactoferrin. However, specific lactoferrin-binding protein receptors have not yet been identified in T. foetus. To differentiate specific and nonspecific binding of lactoferrin, lactoferrin affinity chromatography and Western blotting was used to identify metabolically or surface-labeled T. foetus lactoferrin-binding proteins. Bovine lactoferrin was shown to bind more efficiently than human lactoferrin, and each of these bound much better than bovine transferrin. This is relevant because T. foetus is both species-specific and only infects the mucosal surface of the reproductive tract, which has little transferrin. Whereas the majority of lactoferrin binding was specific, competitive inhibition studies showed that nonspecific, charge-related binding of lactoferrin to T. foetus may also be involved. In the presence of bovine cervical mucus, binding of lactoferrin to T. foetus was diminished, suggesting that mucus has an effect on lactoferrin binding. Sodium dodecyl sulfate–polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis of surface biotinylated proteins affinity-purified on lactoferrin–Sepharose showed biotinylated bands at Mr values of 22, 49, 55, 72, and 155 kDa. Because lactoferrin-binding proteins may be susceptible to digestion by T. foetus extracellular cysteine proteinases, it is suspected that the 155-kDa protein is the specific lactoferrin-binding protein and that the lower-Mr lactoferrin-binding molecules may be fragmentation products that contain the lactoferrin-binding site; however, other interpretations are clearly feasible. It is possible that there may be multiple proteins or multimers of the same protein. In summary, the data showed that binding of lactoferrin to T. foetus may be regulated by an interplay of specific receptor interactions as well as by hydrophobic and charge-related interactions.
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