Structural plasticity of an acid-activated chaperone allows promiscuous substrate binding

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Apr 7;106(14):5557-62. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0811811106. Epub 2009 Mar 24.


HdeA has been shown to prevent acid-induced aggregation of proteins. With a mass of only 9.7 kDa, HdeA is one of the smallest chaperones known. Unlike other molecular chaperones, which are typically complex, multimeric ATP-dependent machines, HdeA is known to undergo an acid-induced dimer to monomer transition and functions at low pH as a disordered monomer without the need for energy factors. Thus, HdeA must possess features that allow it to bind substrates and regulate substrate affinity in a small and energy-independent package. To understand better how HdeA accomplishes this, we studied the conformational changes that accompany a shift to low pH and substrate binding. We find that the acid-induced partial unfolding and monomerization that lead to HdeA activation occur very rapidly (k >3.5 s(-1)). Activation exposes the hydrophobic dimer interface, which we found to be critical for substrate binding. We show by intramolecular FRET that the partially unfolded character of active HdeA allows the chaperone to adopt different conformations as required for the recognition and high-affinity binding of different substrate proteins. These efficient adaptations help to explain how a very small protein is rapidly activated and can bind a broad range of substrate proteins in a purely pH-regulated manner.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acids
  • Binding Sites
  • Dimerization
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / chemistry*
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Molecular Chaperones / chemistry*
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Conformation
  • Substrate Specificity*


  • Acids
  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • Molecular Chaperones
  • hdeA protein, E coli