The chaperone calreticulin is a highly conserved eukaryotic protein mainly located in the endoplasmic reticulum. It contains a free cysteine SH group but does not form disulfide-bridged dimers under physiological conditions, indicating that the SH group may not be fully accessible in the native protein. Using PAGE, urea gradient gel electrophoresis, capillary electrophoresis and MS, we show that dimerization through the SH group can be induced by lowering the pH to 5-6, heating, or under conditions that favour partial unfolding such as urea concentrations above 2.6 m or SDS concentrations above 0.025%. Moreover, we show that calreticulin also has the ability to self-oligomerize through noncovalent interactions at urea concentrations above 2.6 m at pH below 4.6 or above pH 10, at temperatures above 40 degrees C, or in the presence of high concentrations of organic solvents (25%), conditions that favour partial unfolding or an intramolecular local conformational change that allows oligomerization, resulting in a heterogeneous mixture of oligomers consisting of up to 10 calreticulin monomers. The oligomeric calreticulin was very stable, but oligomerization was partially reversed by addition of 8 m urea or 1% SDS, and heat-induced oligomerization could be inhibited by 8 m urea or 1% SDS when present during heating. Comparison of the binding properties of monomeric and oligomeric calreticulin in solid-phase assays showed increased binding to peptides and denatured proteins when calreticulin was oligomerized. Thus, calreticulin shares the ability to self-oligomerize with other important chaperones such as GRP94 and HSP90, a property possibly associated with their chaperone activity.
European Journal of Biochemistry, 2003, Vol 270, Issue 20, p. 4140-8