Small Heat Shock Proteins (sHSPs) are key components of our Protein Quality Control system and are thought to act as reservoirs that neutralize irreversible protein aggregation. Yet, sHSPs can also act as sequestrases, promoting protein sequestration into aggregates, thus challenging our understanding of their exact mechanisms of action. Here, we employ optical tweezers to explore the mechanisms of action of the human small heat shock protein HSPB8 and its pathogenic mutant K141E, which is associated with neuromuscular disease. Through single-molecule manipulation experiments, we studied how HSPB8 and its K141E mutant affect the refolding and aggregation processes of the maltose binding protein. Our data show that HSPB8 selectively suppresses protein aggregation without affecting the native folding process. This anti-aggregation mechanism is distinct from previous models that rely on the stabilization of unfolded polypeptide chains or partially folded structures, as has been reported for other chaperones. Rather, it appears that HSPB8 selectively recognizes and binds to aggregated species formed at the early stages of aggregation, preventing them from growing into larger aggregated structures. Consistently, the K141E mutation specifically targets the affinity for aggregated structures without impacting native folding, and hence impairs its anti-aggregation activity.

The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)
J. Am. Chem. Soc.

Choudhary, D, Mediani, L, Avellaneda, M.J, Bjarnason, S, Alberti, S, Boczek, E.E, … Cecconi, C. (2023). Human Small Heat Shock Protein B8 Inhibits Protein Aggregation without Affecting the Native Folding Process. J. Am. Chem. Soc., 145(28), 15188–15196. doi:10.1021/jacs.3c02022