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The Skp chaperone helps fold soluble proteins in vitro by inhibiting aggregation

Entzminger, KC;Chang, C;Myhre, RO;McCallum, KC;Maynard, JA;

The periplasmic seventeen kilodalton protein (Skp) chaperone has been characterized primarily for its role in outer membrane protein (OMP) biogenesis, during which the jellyfish-like trimeric protein encapsulates partially folded OMPs, protecting them from the aqueous environment until delivery to the BAM outer membrane protein insertion complex. However, Skp is increasingly recognized as a chaperone that also assists in folding soluble proteins in the bacterial periplasm. In this capacity, Skp coexpression increases the active yields of many recombinant proteins and bacterial virulence factors. Using a panel of single-chain antibodies and a single-chain T-cell receptor (collectively termed scFvs) possessing varying stabilities and biophysical characteristics, we performed in vivo expression and in vitro folding and aggregation assays in the presence or absence of Skp. For Skp-sensitive scFvs, the presence of Skp during in vitro refolding assays reduced aggregation but did not alter the observed folding rates, resulting in a higher overall yield of active protein. Of the proteins analyzed, Skp sensitivity in all assays correlated with the presence of folding intermediates, as observed with urea denaturation studies. These results are consistent with Skp acting as a holdase, sequestering partially folded intermediates and thereby preventing aggregation. Because not all soluble proteins are sensitive to Skp coexpression, we hypothesize that the presence of a long-lived protein folding intermediate renders a protein sensitive to Skp. Improved understanding of the bacterial periplasmic protein folding machinery may assist in high-level recombinant protein expression and may help identify novel approaches to block bacterial virulence.