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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We thank Helena Berglund for kindly providing the plasmid encoding an engineered Tobacco Etch Virus protease domain. This work was supported by grants from the Ministry of Health & Welfare, Republic of Korea [grant numbers 2018M3A9H4079358] and from the Ministry of Science and ICT, National Research Foundation, Republic of Korea [grant numbers 2014M3A9E4064580].
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