Alpha-crystallin possesses a molecular chaperone-like activity that prevents proteins from aggregating; however, the mechanism of this activity is not well known. Here we have taken gamma-irradiated alpha-crystallin and studied the relationship between the decrease in chaperone-like activity and the modifications such as oxidation, isomerization and racemization of amino acids in this molecule. We found that the chaperone-like activity of alpha-crystallin decreased with increasing gamma irradiation. After 4000 Gy gamma irradiation the activity of alpha-crystallin was reduced to 40% of the level of nonirradiated, native alpha-crystallin. The circular dichroism spectrum showed that the secondary structure of the irradiated alpha-crystallin had not changed. However, its tertiary structure appeared to change following more than 1000 Gy irradiation. Sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis also indicated that cross-linking of alpha-crystallin increased with increasing radiation doses. Irradiated and nonirradiated alpha-crystallin was subjected to trypsin digestion and peptide analysis by reverse-phase high-performance liquid chromatography and mass and sequence analysis. Depending on the radiation dose, Met-1 of alpha A-crystallin was oxidized to methionine sulfoxide. In addition, Asp-151 of alpha A-crystallin was isomerized to the beta-Asp form after irradiation, and racemization of Asp-151 decreased. Thus, the loss of the chaperone-like activity of alpha-crystallin is related to changes in its isomerization, oxidation and racemization.
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Vol. 74 • No. 3