The incorporation of copper into biological macromolecules such as SOD1 (Cu,Zn superoxide dismutase) is essential for the viability of most organisms. However, copper is toxic and therefore the intracellular free copper concentration is kept to an absolute minimum. Several proteins, termed metallochaperones, are charged with the responsibility of delivering copper from membrane transporters to its intracellular destination. The CCS (copper chaperone for SOD1) is the major pathway for SOD1 copper loading. We have determined the first solution structure of hCCS (human CCS) by SAXS (small-angle X-ray scattering) in conjunction with SEC (size-exclusion chromatography). The findings of the present study highlight the importance of this combined on-line chromatographic technology with SAXS, which has allowed us to unambiguously separate the hCCS dimer from other oligomeric and non-physiological aggregated states that would otherwise adversely effect measurements performed on bulk solutions. The present study exposes the dynamic molecular conformation of this multi-domain chaperone in solution. The metal-binding domains known to be responsible for the conveyance of copper to SOD1 can be found in positions that would expedite this movement. Domains I and III of a single hCCS monomer are able to interact and can also move into positions that would facilitate initial copper binding and ultimately transfer to SOD1. Conversely, the interpretation of our solution studies is not compatible with an interaction between these domains and their counterparts in an hCCS dimer. Overall, the results of the present study reveal the plasticity of this multi-domain chaperone in solution and are consistent with an indispensable flexibility necessary for executing its dual functions of metal binding and transfer.

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