Selective Cu2+ Binding, Redox Silencing, and Cytoprotective Effects of the Small Heat Shock Proteins αA- and αB-Crystallin
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Oxidative stress and Cu(2+) have been implicated in several neurodegenerative diseases and in cataract. Oxidative stress, as well as Cu(2+), is also known to induce the expression of the small heat shock proteins alpha-crystallins. However, the role of alpha-crystallins in oxidative stress and in Cu(2+)-mediated processes is not clearly understood. We demonstrate using fluorescence and isothermal titration calorimetry that alpha-crystallins (alphaA- and alphaB-crystallin and its phosphorylation mimic, 3DalphaB-crystallin) bind Cu(2+) with close to picomolar range affinity. The presence of other tested divalent cations such as Zn(2+), Mg(2+), and Ca(2+) does not affect Cu(2+) binding, indicating selectivity of the Cu(2+)-binding site(s) in alpha-crystallins. Cu(2+) binding induces structural changes and increase in the hydrodynamic radii of alpha-crystallins. Cu(2+) binding increases the stability of alpha-crystallins towards guanidinium chloride-induced unfolding. Chaperone activity of alphaA-crystallin increases significantly upon Cu(2+) binding. Alpha-crystallins rescue amyloid beta peptide, Abeta(1-40), from Cu(2+)-induced aggregation in vitro. Alpha-crystallins inhibit Cu(2+)-induced oxidation of ascorbate and, hence, prevent the generation of reactive oxygen species. Interestingly, alpha-synuclein, a Cu(2+)-binding protein, does not inhibit this oxidation process significantly. We find that the Cu(2+)-sequestering (or redox-silencing) property of alpha-crystallins confers cytoprotection. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to reveal high affinity (close to picomolar) for Cu(2+) binding and redox silencing of Cu(2+) by any heat shock protein. Thus, our study ascribes a novel functional role to alpha-crystallins in Cu(2+) homeostasis and helps in understanding their protective role in neurodegenerative diseases and cataract.