We recently reported that the ubiquitous, secreted protein clusterin has chaperone activity in vitro [Humphreys et al. (1999) J. Biol. Chem. 274, 6875-6881]. In this study, we demonstrate that clusterin (i) inhibits stress-induced precipitation of a very broad range of structurally divergent protein substrates, (ii) binds irreversibly via an ATP-independent mechanism to stressed proteins to form solubilized high molecular weight complexes, (iii) lacks detectable ATPase activity, (iv) when acting alone, does not effect refolding of stressed proteins in vitro, and (v) stabilizes stressed proteins in a state competent for refolding by heat shock protein 70 (HSP70). Furthermore, we show that, at physiological levels, clusterin inhibits stress-induced precipitation of proteins in undiluted human serum. Clusterin represents the first identified secreted mammalian chaperone. However, reports from others suggest that, at least under stress conditions, clusterin may be retained within cells to exert a protective effect. Regardless of the topological site(s) of action, the demonstration that clusterin can stabilize stressed proteins in a refolding-competent state suggests that, during stresses, the action of clusterin may inhibit rapid and irreversible protein precipitation and produce a reservoir of inactive but stabilized molecules from which other refolding chaperones can subsequently salvage functional proteins.