Protein moonlighting: what is it, and why is it important?

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2018 Jan 19;373(1738):20160523. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2016.0523.


Members of the GroEL/HSP60 protein family have been studied for many years because of their critical roles as ATP-dependent molecular chaperones, so it might come as a surprise that some have important functions in ATP-poor conditions, for example, when secreted outside the cell. At least some members of each of the HSP10, HSP70, HSP90, HSP100 and HSP110 heat shock protein families are also 'moonlighting proteins'. Moonlighting proteins exhibit more than one physiologically relevant biochemical or biophysical function within one polypeptide chain. In this class of multifunctional proteins, the multiple functions are not due to gene fusions or multiple proteolytic fragments. Several hundred moonlighting proteins have been identified, and they include a diverse set of proteins with a large variety of functions. Some participate in multiple biochemical processes by using an active site pocket for catalysis and a different part of the protein's surface to interact with other proteins. Moonlighting proteins play a central role in many diseases, and the development of novel treatments would be aided by more information addressing current questions, for example, how some are targeted to multiple cellular locations and how a single function can be targeted by therapeutics without targeting a function not involved in disease.This article is part of the theme issue 'Heat shock proteins as modulators and therapeutic targets of chronic disease: an integrated perspective'.

Keywords: heat shock proteins; moonlighting proteins; multifunctional proteins.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Eukaryota / genetics
  • Eukaryota / metabolism
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / genetics*
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans


  • Heat-Shock Proteins