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J Biol Chem. 2010 Jun 25;285(26):19757-66. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M110.110296. Epub 2010 Apr 28.

The small heat-shock protein HspL is a VirB8 chaperone promoting type IV secretion-mediated DNA transfer.

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Institute of Plant and Microbial Biology, Academia Sinica, Taipei 11529, Taiwan.


Agrobacterium tumefaciens is a plant pathogen that utilizes a type IV secretion system (T4SS) to transfer DNA and effector proteins into host cells. In this study we discovered that an alpha-crystallin type small heat-shock protein (alpha-Hsp), HspL, is a molecular chaperone for VirB8, a T4SS assembly factor. HspL is a typical alpha-Hsp capable of protecting the heat-labile model substrate citrate synthase from thermal aggregation. It forms oligomers in a concentration-dependent manner in vitro. Biochemical fractionation revealed that HspL is mainly localized in the inner membrane and formed large complexes with certain VirB protein subassemblies. Protein-protein interaction studies indicated that HspL interacts with VirB8, a bitopic integral inner membrane protein that is essential for T4SS assembly. Most importantly, HspL is able to prevent the aggregation of VirB8 fused with glutathione S-transferase in vitro, suggesting that it plays a role as VirB8 chaperone. The chaperone activity of two HspL variants with amino acid substitutions (F98A and G118A) for both citrate synthase and glutathione S-transferase-VirB8 was reduced and correlated with HspL functions in T4SS-mediated DNA transfer and virulence. This study directly links in vitro and in vivo functions of an alpha-Hsp and reveals a novel alpha-Hsp function in T4SS stability and bacterial virulence.

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