Background: Small Heat Shock Proteins (sHSPs) are chaperone-like proteins involved in the prevention of the irreversible aggregation of misfolded proteins. Although many studies have already been conducted on sHSPs, the molecular mechanisms and structural properties of these proteins remain unclear. Here, we propose a better understanding of the architecture, organization and properties of the sHSP family through structural and functional annotations. We focused on the Alpha Crystallin Domain (ACD), a sandwich fold that is the hallmark of the sHSP family.
Methodology/principal findings: We developed a new approach for detecting sHSPs and delineating ACDs based on an iterative Hidden Markov Model algorithm using a multiple alignment profile generated from structural data on ACD. Using this procedure on the UniProt databank, we found 4478 sequences identified as sHSPs, showing a very good coverage with the corresponding PROSITE and Pfam profiles. ACD was then delimited and structurally annotated. We showed that taxonomic-based groups of sHSPs (animals, plants, bacteria) have unique features regarding the length of their ACD and, more specifically, the length of a large loop within ACD. We detailed highly conserved residues and patterns specific to the whole family or to some groups of sHSPs. For 96% of studied sHSPs, we identified in the C-terminal region a conserved I/V/L-X-I/V/L motif that acts as an anchor in the oligomerization process. The fragment defined from the end of ACD to the end of this motif has a mean length of 14 residues and was named the C-terminal Anchoring Module (CAM).
Conclusions/significance: This work annotates structural components of ACD and quantifies properties of several thousand sHSPs. It gives a more accurate overview of the architecture of sHSP monomers.