Molecular chaperones are not only fascinating molecular machines that help the folding, refolding, activation or assembly of other proteins, but also have a number of functions. These functions can be understood only by considering the emergent properties of cellular networks-and that of chaperones as special network constituents. As a notable example for the network-related roles of chaperones they may act as genetic buffers stabilizing the phenotype of various cells and organisms, and may serve as potential regulators of evolvability. Why are chaperones special in the context of cellular networks? Chaperones: (1) have weak links, i.e. low affinity, transient interactions with most of their partners; (2) connect hubs, i.e. act as 'masterminds' of the cell being close to several centre proteins with a lot of neighbours; and (3) are in the overlaps of network modules, which confers upon them a special regulatory role. Importantly, chaperones may uncouple or even quarantine modules of protein-protein interaction networks, signalling networks, genetic regulatory networks and membrane organelle networks during stress, which gives an additional chaperone-mediated protection for the cell at the network-level. Moreover, chaperones are essential to rebuild inter-modular contacts after stress by their low affinity, 'quasi-random' sampling of the potential interaction partners in different cellular modules. This opens the way to the chaperone-regulated modular evolution of cellular networks, and helps us to design novel therapeutic and anti-ageing strategies.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology