A widespread family of heat-resistant obscure (Hero) proteins protect against protein instability and aggregation

by Kotaro Tsuboyama, Tatsuya Osaki, Eriko Matsuura-Suzuki, Hiroko Kozuka-Hata, Yuki Okada, Masaaki Oyama, Yoshiho Ikeuchi, Shintaro Iwasaki, Yukihide Tomari

Proteins are typically denatured and aggregated by heating at near-boiling temperature. Exceptions to this principle include highly disordered and heat-resistant proteins found in extremophiles, which help these organisms tolerate extreme conditions such as drying, freezing, and high salinity. In contrast, the functions of heat-soluble proteins in non-extremophilic organisms including humans remain largely unexplored. Here, we report that heat-resistant obscure (Hero) proteins, which remain soluble after boiling at 95°C, are widespread in Drosophila and humans. Hero proteins are hydrophilic and highly charged, and function to stabilize various “client” proteins, protecting them from denaturation even under stress conditions such as heat shock, desiccation, and exposure to organic solvents. Hero proteins can also block several different types of pathological protein aggregations in cells and in Drosophila strains that model neurodegenerative diseases. Moreover, Hero proteins can extend life span of Drosophila. Our study reveals that organisms naturally use Hero proteins as molecular shields to stabilize protein functions, highlighting their biotechnological and therapeutic potential.

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