Crystallins and neuroinflammation: The glial side of the story

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2016 Jan;1860(1 Pt B):278-86. doi: 10.1016/j.bbagen.2015.05.023. Epub 2015 Jun 3.


Background: There is an abundance of evidence to support the association of damaging neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration across a multitude of diseases. One of the links between these pathological phenomena is the role of chaperone proteins as both neuroprotective and immune-regulatory agents.

Scope of review: Chaperone proteins are highly expressed at sites of neuroinflammation both in glial cells and in the injured neurons that initiate the immune response. For this reason, the use of chaperones as treatment for various diseases associated with neuroinflammation is a highly active area of investigation. This review explores the various ways that the small heat shock protein chaperones, α-crystallins, can affect glial cell function with a specific focus on their implication in the inflammatory response associated with neurodegenerative disorders, and their potential as therapeutic treatment.

Major conclusions: Although the mechanisms are still under investigation, a clear link has now been established between alpha-crystallins and neuroinflammation, especially through their roles in microglial and macroglial cells. Interestingly, similar to inflammation in itself, crystallins can have a beneficial or detrimental impact on the CNS based on the context and duration of the condition.

General significance: Overall this review points out the novel roles that chaperones such as alpha-crystallins can play outside of the classical protein folding pathways, and their potential in the development of new therapies for the treatment of neuroinflammatory/neurodegenerative diseases. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled Crystallin Biochemistry in Health and Disease.

Keywords: Astrocytes; Central nervous system; Crystallins; Microglia; Neuroinflammation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Crystallins / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Immunological*
  • Neurogenic Inflammation / immunology*
  • Neurogenic Inflammation / pathology*
  • Neuroglia / immunology*
  • Neuroglia / pathology
  • Neuroimmunomodulation / immunology*
  • Signal Transduction / immunology


  • Crystallins