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PLoS One. 2013 Nov 27;8(11):e80404. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0080404. eCollection 2013.

Thermal stress induced aggregation of aquaporin 0 (AQP0) and protection by α-crystallin via its chaperone function.

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University of West Georgia, Carrollton, Georgia, United States of America.


Aquaporin 0 (AQP0) formerly known as membrane intrinsic protein (MIP), is expressed exclusively in the lens during terminal differentiation of fiber cells. AQP0 plays an important role not only in the regulation of water content but also in cell-to-cell adhesion of the lens fiber cells. We have investigated the thermal stress-induced structural alterations of detergent (octyl glucoside)-solubilized calf lens AQP0. The results show an increase in the amount of AQP0 that aggregated as the temperature increased from 40°C to 65°C. α-Crystallin, molecular chaperone abundantly present in the eye lens, completely prevented the AQP0 aggregation at a 1∶1 (weight/weight) ratio. Since α-crystallin consists of two gene products namely αA- and αB-crystallins, we have tested the recombinant proteins on their ability to prevent thermal-stress induced AQP0 aggregation. In contrast to the general observation made with other target proteins, αA-crystallin exhibited better chaperone-like activity towards AQP0 compared to αB-crystallin. Neither post-translational modifications (glycation) nor C-terminus truncation of AQP0 have any appreciable effect on its thermal aggregation properties. α-Crystallin offers similar protection against thermal aggregation as in the case of the unmodified AQP0, suggesting that αcrystallin may bind to either intracellular loops or other residues of AQP0 that become exposed during thermal stress. Far-UV circular dichroism studies indicated a loss of αhelical structures when AQP0 was subjected to temperatures above 45°C, and the presence of α-crystallin stabilized these secondary structures. We report here, for the first time, that α-crystallin protects AQP0 from thermal aggregation. Since stress-induced structural perturbations of AQP0 may affect the integrity of the lens, presence of the molecular chaperone, α-crystallin (particularly αA-crystallin) in close proximity to the lens membrane is physiologically relevant.

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