Small heat shock proteins: Simplicity meets complexity [Cell Biology]

October 31st, 2018 by Martin Haslbeck, Sevil Weinkauf, Johannes Buchner

Small heat shock proteins (sHsps) are a ubiquitous and ancient family of ATP-independent molecular chaperones. A key characteristic of sHsps is that they exist in ensembles of iso-energetic oligomeric species differing in size. This property arises from a unique mode of assembly involving several parts of the subunits in a flexible manner. Current evidence suggests that smaller oligomers are more active chaperones. Thus, a shift in the equilibrium of the sHsp ensemble allows regulating the chaperone activity. Different mechanisms have been identified that reversibly change the oligomer equilibrium. The promiscuous interaction with non-native proteins generates complexes that can form aggregate-like structures from which native proteins are restored by ATP-dependent chaperones such as Hsp70 family members. In recent years, this basic paradigm has been expanded and new roles, new cofactors as well as variations in structure and regulation of sHsps have emerged.