Small heat shock protein αA-crystallin, the major protein of the eye lens, is a molecular chaperone. It consists of a highly conserved central domain flanked by the N-terminal and C-terminal regions. In this article we studied the role of the N-terminal domain in the structure and chaperone function of αA-crystallin. Using site directed truncation we raised several deletion mutants of αA-crystallin and their protein products were expressed in Escherichia coli. Size exclusion chromatography of these purified proteins showed that deletion from the N-terminal beyond the first 20 residues drastically reduced the oligomeric association of αA-crystallin and its complete removal resulted in a tetramer. Chaperone activity of αA-crystallin, determined by thermal and nonthermal aggregation and refolding assay, decreased with increasing length of deletion and little activity was observed for the tetramer. However it was revealed that N-terminal regions were not responsible for specific recognition of natural substrates and that low affinity substrate binding sites existed in other part of the molecule. The number of exposed hydrophobic sites and the affinity of binding hydrophobic probe bis-ANS as well as protein substrates decreased with N-terminal deletion. The stability of the mutant proteins decreased with increase in the length of deletion. The role of thermodynamic stability, oligomeric size, and surface hydrophobicity in chaperone function is discussed. Detailed analysis showed that the most important role of N-terminal region is to control the oligomerization, which is crucial for the stability and in vivo survival of this protein molecule. © 2007 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Biopolymers 86: 177–192, 2007.
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