Published on Fri Oct 01 2021

Natural and designed proteins inspired by extremotolerant organisms can form condensates and attenuate apoptosis in human cells

Veling, M. T., Nguyen, D. T., Thadani, N. N., Oster, M. E., Rollins, N. J., Brock, K. P., Bethel, N. P., Baker, D., Way, J. C., Marks, D. S., Chang, R. L., Silver, P. A.

Proteins from tardigrades, nematodes and the Chinese giant salamander are apoptosis protective. We identify a region of the human ApoE protein with similarity to extremotolerance-associated proteins that also protects against apoptosis.

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Abstract

Many organisms can survive extreme conditions and successfully recover to normal life. This extremotolerant behavior has been attributed in part to repetitive, amphipathic, and intrinsically disordered proteins that are upregulated in the protected state. Here, we assemble a library of approximately 300 naturally-occurring and designed extremotolerance-associated proteins to assess their ability to protect human cells from chemically-induced apoptosis. We show that proteins from tardigrades, nematodes, and the Chinese giant salamander are apoptosis protective. Notably, we identify a region of the human ApoE protein with similarity to extremotolerance-associated proteins that also protects against apoptosis. This region mirrors the phase separation behavior seen with such proteins, like the tardigrade protein CAHS2. Moreover, we identify a synthetic protein, DHR81, that shares this combination of elevated phase separation propensity and apoptosis protection. Finally, we demonstrate that driving protective proteins into the condensate state increases apoptosis protection, and highlight the ability for DHR81 condensates to sequester caspase-7. Taken together, this work draws a link between extremotolerance-associated proteins, condensate formation, and human cellular protection.