The chaperone activity of clusterin is dependent on glycosylation and redox environment

Cell Physiol Biochem. 2014;34(5):1626-39. doi: 10.1159/000366365. Epub 2014 Nov 3.


Background/aims: Clusterin (CLU), also known as Apolipoprotein J (ApoJ) is a highly glycosylated extracellular chaperone. In humans it is expressed from a broad spectrum of tissues and related to a plethora of physiological and pathophysiological processes, such as Alzheimer's disease, atherosclerosis and cancer. In its dominant form it is expressed as a secretory protein (secreted CLU, sCLU). During its maturation, the sCLU-precursor is N-glycosylated and cleaved into an α- and a β-chain, which are connected by five symmetrical disulfide bonds. Recently, it has been demonstrated that besides the predominant sCLU, rare intracellular CLU forms are expressed in stressed cells. Since these forms do not enter or complete the secretory pathway, they are not proteolytically modified and show either no or only core glycosylation. Due to their sparsity, these intracellular forms are functionally poorly characterized. To evaluate the function(s) of these stress-related intracellular forms, we investigate for the first time the impact of proteolytic cleavage, differential glycosylation and the influence of the redox environment on the chaperone activity of CLU.

Methods: Non-cleavable sCLU was generated by expression from a mutant construct of sCLU, in which the furin-like proprotein convertase (PC) recognition site was modified. After purification of recombinant uncleaved sCLU from the medium of over-expressing cells, we performed chaperone activity assays to compare the activities of wild-type (cleaved) and uncleaved mutant sCLU. Additionally, this approach enabled us to investigate the role of carbohydrates, the proteolytic maturation and reducing conditions on CLU chaperone activity. Further, we characterized the differentially treated CLU forms by using MALDI-TOF, CD-spectroscopy and Western blotting in addition to the functional assay.

Results: We show that the PC-cleavage is dispensable for sCLU chaperone activity. Moreover, our data demonstrate that while fully deglycosylated sCLU lacks chaperone activity, partially deglycosylated sCLU is still capable of solubilizing target proteins. Most importantly, we here demonstrate for the first time that uncleaved sCLU is highly sensitive towards reducing conditions.

Conclusions: Our study provides evidence that unglycosylated intracellular CLU forms cannot exhibit a chaperone activity compared to sCLU. Additionally, we support recent postulates that glycosylated intracellular CLU forms may act as a redox sensor under oxidative stress conditions. Furthermore, we conclude that the proteolytic cleavage of sCLU is important to maintain full chaperone activity, i.e. in the presence of necrosis.

MeSH terms

  • Carbohydrates / genetics
  • Clusterin / genetics*
  • DNA, Complementary / genetics
  • Glycosylation
  • Humans
  • Molecular Chaperones / genetics*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxidative Stress / genetics
  • Proteolysis


  • Carbohydrates
  • Clusterin
  • DNA, Complementary
  • Molecular Chaperones