Domain swapping in human alpha A and alpha B crystallins affects oligomerization and enhances chaperone-like activity

J Biol Chem. 2000 Jul 21;275(29):22009-13. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M003307200.


alphaA and alphaB crystallins, members of the small heat shock protein family, prevent aggregation of proteins by their chaperone-like activity. These two proteins, although very homologous, particularly in the C-terminal region, which contains the highly conserved "alpha-crystallin domain," show differences in their protective ability toward aggregation-prone target proteins. In order to investigate the differences between alphaA and alphaB crystallins, we engineered two chimeric proteins, alphaANBC and alphaBNAC, by swapping the N-terminal domains of alphaA and alphaB crystallins. The chimeras were cloned and expressed in Escherichia coli. The purified recombinant wild-type and chimeric proteins were characterized by fluorescence and circular dichroism spectroscopy and gel permeation chromatography to study the changes in secondary, tertiary, and quaternary structure. Circular dichroism studies show structural changes in the chimeric proteins. alphaBNAC binds more 8-anilinonaphthalene-1-sulfonic acid than the alphaANBC and the wild-type proteins, indicating increased accessible hydrophobic regions. The oligomeric state of alphaANBC is comparable to wild-type alphaB homoaggregate. However, there is a large increase in the oligomer size of the alphaBNAC chimera. Interestingly, swapping domains results in complete loss of chaperone-like activity of alphaANBC, whereas alphaBNAC shows severalfold increase in its protective ability. Our findings show the importance of the N- and C-terminal domains of alphaA and alphaB crystallins in subunit oligomerization and chaperone-like activity. Domain swapping results in an engineered protein with significantly enhanced chaperone-like activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • Crystallins / chemistry*
  • Crystallins / metabolism*
  • Dimerization
  • Humans
  • Molecular Chaperones / metabolism*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / chemistry
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / metabolism
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Crystallins
  • Molecular Chaperones
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins