The small heat-shock proteins (sHSPs) form a diverse family of proteins that are produced in all organisms. They function as chaperone-like proteins in that they bind unfolded polypeptides and prevent uncontrolled protein aggregation. Here, we present parallel cryo-electron microscopy studies of five different sHSP assemblies: Methanococcus jannaschii HSP16.5, human alphaB-crystallin, human HSP27, bovine native alpha-crystallin, and the complex of alphaB-crystallin and unfolded alpha-lactalbumin. Gel-filtration chromatography indicated that HSP16.5 is the most monodisperse, while HSP27 and the alpha-crystallin assemblies are more polydisperse. Particle images revealed a similar trend showing mostly regular and symmetric assemblies for HSP16.5 particles and the most irregular assemblies with a wide range of diameters for HSP27. A symmetry test on the particle images indicated stronger octahedral symmetry for HSP16.5 than for HSP27 or the alpha-crystallin assemblies. A single particle reconstruction of HSP16.5, based on 5772 particle images with imposed octahedral symmetry, resulted in a structure that closely matched the crystal structure. In addition, the cryo-EM reconstruction revealed internal density presumably corresponding to the flexible 32 N-terminal residues that were not observed in the crystal structure. The N termini were found to partially fill the central cavity making it unlikely that HSP16.5 sequesters denatured proteins in the cavity. A reconstruction calculated without imposed symmetry confirmed the presence of at least loose octahedral symmetry for HSP16.5 in contrast to the other sHSPs examined, which displayed no clear overall symmetry. Asymmetric reconstructions for the alpha-crystallin assemblies, with an additional mass selection step during image processing, resulted in lower resolution structures. We interpret the alpha-crystallin reconstructions to be average representations of variable assemblies and suggest that the resolutions achieved indicate the degree of variability. Quaternary structural information derived from cryo-electron microscopy is related to recent EPR studies of the alpha-crystallin domain fold and dimer interface of alphaA-crystallin.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.