Molecular chaperones play an important role in cellular protein-folding assistance and aggregation inhibition. As a different but complementary model, we previously proposed that, in general, soluble cellular macromolecules with large excluded volume and surface charges exhibit intrinsic chaperone activity to prevent aggregation of their connected polypeptides irrespective of the connection type, thereby contributing to efficient protein folding. As a proof of concept, we here demonstrated that a model recombinant protein with a specific sequence-binding domain robustly exerted chaperone activity toward various proteins harbouring a short recognition tag of 7 residues in Escherichia coli. The chaperone activity of this protein was comparable to that of representative E. coli chaperones in vivo. Furthermore, in vitro refolding experiments confirmed the in vivo results. Our findings reveal that a soluble protein exhibits the intrinsic chaperone activity to prevent off-pathway aggregation of its interacting proteins, leading to more productive folding while allowing them to fold according to their intrinsic folding pathways. This study gives new insights into the plausible chaperoning role of soluble cellular macromolecules in terms of aggregation inhibition and indirect folding assistance.
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