Microbial molecular chaperones

P A Lund

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142 Citations (Scopus)


Protein folding in the cell, long thought to be a spontaneous process, in fact often requires the assistance of molecular chaperones. This is thought to be largely because of the danger of incorrect folding and aggregation of proteins, which is a particular problem in the crowded environment of the cell. Molecular chaperones are involved in numerous processes in bacterial cells, including assisting the folding of newly synthesized proteins, both during and after translation; assisting in protein secretion, preventing aggregation of proteins on heat shock, and repairing proteins that have been damaged or misfolded by stresses such as a heat shock. Within the cell, a balance has to be found between refolding of proteins and their proteolytic degradation, and molecular chaperones play a key role in this. In this review, the evidence for the existence and role of the major cytoplasmic molecular chaperones will be discussed, mainly from the physiological point of view but also in relationship to their known structure, function and mechanism of action. The two major chaperone systems in bacterial cells (as typified by Escherichia coli) are the GroE and DnaK chaperones, and the contrasting roles and mechanisms of these chaperones will be presented. The GroE chaperone machine acts by providing a protected environment in which protein folding of individual protein molecules can proceed, whereas the DnaK chaperones act by binding and protecting exposed regions on unfolded or partially folded protein chains. DnaK chaperones interact with trigger factor in protein translation and with ClpB in reactivating proteins which have become aggregated after heat shock. The nature of the other cytoplasmic chaperones in the cell will also be reviewed, including those for which a clear function has not yet been determined, and those where an in vivo chaperone function has still to be proven, such as the small heat shock proteins IbpA and IbpB. The regulation of expression of the genes of the heat shock response will also be discussed, particularly in the light of the signals that are needed to induce the response. The major signals for induction of the heat shock response are elevated temperature and the presence of unfolded protein within the cell, but these are sensed and transduced differently by different bacteria. The best characterized example is the sigma 32 subunit of RNA polymerase from E. coli, which is both more efficiently translated and also transiently stabilized following heat shock. The DnaK chaperones modulate this effect. However, a more widely conserved system appears to be typified by the HrcA repressor in Bacillus subtilis, the activity of which is modulated by the GroE chaperone machine. Other examples of regulation of molecular chaperones will also be discussed. Finally, the likely future research directions for molecular chaperone biology in the post-genomic era will be briefly evaluated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-140
Number of pages48
JournalAdvances in Microbial Physiology
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Bacillus subtilis
  • Chaperonins
  • HSP70 Heat-Shock Proteins
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • HSP90 Heat-Shock Proteins
  • Sigma Factor
  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • Escherichia coli
  • Protein Folding
  • Molecular Chaperones
  • Signal Transduction
  • Heat-Shock Proteins


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