Group I chaperonins are a highly conserved family of essential proteins that self-assemble into molecular nanoboxes that mediate the folding of cytoplasmic proteins in bacteria and organelles. GroEL, the chaperonin of Escherichia coli, is the archetype of the family. Protein folding-independent functions have been described for numerous chaperonins, including HtpB, the chaperonin of the bacterial pathogen Legionella pneumophila. Several protein folding-independent functions attributed to HtpB are not shared by GroEL, suggesting that differences in the amino acid (aa) sequence between these two proteins could correlate with functional differences. GroEL and HtpB differ in 137 scattered aa positions. Using the Evolutionary Trace (ET) bioinformatics method, site-directed mutagenesis, and a functional reporter test based upon a yeast-two-hybrid interaction with the eukaryotic protein ECM29, it was determined that out of those 137 aa, ten (M68, M212, S236, K298, N507 and the cluster AEHKD in positions 471-475) were involved in the interaction of HtpB with ECM29. GroEL was completely unable to interact with ECM29, but when GroEL was modified at those 10 aa positions, to display the HtpB aa, it acquired a weak ability to interact with ECM29. This constitutes proof of concept that the unique functional abilities of HtpB can be mapped to specific aa positions.
Keywords: ECM29; GroEL; HtpB; Legionella; chaperonin; evolutionary trace; site-directed mutagenesis; yeast-two-hybrid.