Research ArticleBIOPHYSICS

Structural basis of client specificity in mitochondrial membrane-protein chaperones

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Science Advances  18 Dec 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 51, eabd0263
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abd0263


Chaperones are essential for assisting protein folding and for transferring poorly soluble proteins to their functional locations within cells. Hydrophobic interactions drive promiscuous chaperone-client binding, but our understanding of how additional interactions enable client specificity is sparse. Here, we decipher what determines binding of two chaperones (TIM8·13 and TIM9·10) to different integral membrane proteins, the all-transmembrane mitochondrial carrier Ggc1 and Tim23, which has an additional disordered hydrophilic domain. Combining NMR, SAXS, and molecular dynamics simulations, we determine the structures of Tim23/TIM8·13 and Tim23/TIM9·10 complexes. TIM8·13 uses transient salt bridges to interact with the hydrophilic part of its client, but its interactions to the transmembrane part are weaker than in TIM9·10. Consequently, TIM9·10 outcompetes TIM8·13 in binding hydrophobic clients, while TIM8·13 is tuned to few clients with both hydrophilic and hydrophobic parts. Our study exemplifies how chaperones fine-tune the balance of promiscuity versus specificity.

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