In addition to their key role as structural lens proteins, α-crystallins also appear to confer protection against many eye diseases, including cataract, retinitis pigmentosa, and macular degeneration. Exogenous recombinant α-crystallin proteins were examined for their ability to prevent cell death induced by heat or oxidative stress in a human lens epithelial cell line (HLE-B3). Wild type αA- or αB-crystallin (WT-αA and WT-αB) and αA- or αB-crystallins, modified by the addition of a cell penetration peptide (CPP) designed to enhance the uptake of proteins into cells (gC-αB, TAT-αB, gC-αA), were produced by recombinant methods. In vitro chaperone-like assays were used to assay the ability of α-crystallins to protect client proteins from chemical or heat induced aggregation. In vivo viability assays were performed in HLE-B3 to determine whether pre-treatment with α-crystallins reduced death after exposure to oxidative or heat stress. Most of the five recombinant α-crystallin proteins tested conferred some in vitro protection from protein aggregation, with the greatest effect seen with WT-αB and gC-αB. All α-crystallins displayed significant protection to oxidative stress induced cell death, while only the αB-crystallins reduced cell death induced by thermal stress. Our findings indicate that the addition of the gC tag enhanced the protective effect of αB-crystallin against oxidative but not thermally-induced cell death. In conclusion, modifications that increase the uptake of α-crystallin proteins into cells, without destroying their chaperone-like activity and anti-apoptotic functions, create the potential to use these proteins therapeutically.
Keywords: Alpha crystallin; Apoptosis; Lens; Small heat shock protein.
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