Small heat shock proteins (sHsp) occur in all domains of life. By interacting with misfolded or aggregated proteins these chaperones fulfill a protective role in cellular protein homeostasis. Here, we demonstrate that the sHsp YocM of the Gram-positive model organism Bacillus subtilis is part of the cellular protein quality control system with a specific role in salt stress response. In the absence of YocM the survival of salt shocked cells is impaired, and increased levels of YocM protect B. subtilis exposed to heat or salt. We observed a salt and heat stress-induced localization of YocM to intracellular protein aggregates. Interestingly, purified YocM appears to accelerate protein aggregation of different model substrates in vitro. In addition, the combined presence of YocM and chemical chaperones, which accumulate in salt stressed cells, can facilitate in vitro a synergistic protective effect on protein misfolding. Therefore, the beneficial role of YocM during salt stress could be related to a mutual functional relationship with chemical chaperones and adds a new possible functional aspect to sHsp chaperone activities.
© 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.