The human blood protein vitronectin (Vn) is a major component of the abnormal deposits associated with age-related macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s disease, and many other age-related disorders. Its accumulation with lipids and hydroxyapatite (HAP) has been demonstrated, but the precise mechanism for deposit formation remains unknown. Using a combination of solution and solid-state NMR experiments, cosedimentation assays, differential scanning fluorimetry (DSF), and binding energy calculations, we demonstrate that Vn is capable of binding both soluble ionic calcium and crystalline HAP, with high affinity and chemical specificity. Calcium ions bind preferentially at an external site, at the top of the hemopexin-like (HX) domain, with a group of four Asp carboxylate groups. The same external site is also implicated in HAP binding. Moreover, Vn acquires thermal stability upon association with either calcium ions or crystalline HAP. The data point to a mechanism whereby Vn plays an active role in orchestrating calcified deposit formation. They provide a platform for understanding the pathogenesis of macular degeneration and other related degenerative disorders, and the normal functions of Vn, especially those related to bone resorption.
macular degeneration, deposit, drusen, NMR, solid state