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  1. Protein self-assembly plays a vital role in a myriad of biological functions and in the construction of biomaterials. Although the physical association underlying these assemblies offers high specificity, the advantage often compromises the overall durability of protein complexes. To address this challenge, we propose a novel strategy that reinforces the molecular self-assembly of protein complexes mediated by their ligand. Known for their robust noncovalent interactions with biotin, streptavidin (SAv) tetramers are examined to understand how the ligand influences the mechanical strength of protein complexes at the nanoscale and macroscale, employing atomic force microscopy-based single-molecule force spectroscopy, rheology, and bioerosion analysis. Our study reveals that biotin binding enhances the mechanical strength of individual SAv tetramers at the nanoscale. This enhancement translates into improved shear elasticity and reduced bioerosion rates when SAv tetramers are utilized as cross-linking junctions within hydrogel. This approach, which enhances the mechanical strength of protein-based materials without compromising specificity, is expected to open new avenues for advanced biotechnological applications, including self-assembled, robust biomimetic scaffolds and soft robotics. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 10, 2025
  2. Abstract

    Chaperones are a large family of proteins crucial for maintaining cellular protein homeostasis. One such chaperone is the 70 kDa heat shock protein (Hsp70), which plays a crucial role in protein (re)folding, stability, functionality, and translocation. While the key events in the Hsp70 chaperone cycle are well established, a relatively small number of distinct substrates were repetitively investigated. This is despite Hsp70 engaging with a plethora of cellular proteins of various structural properties and folding pathways. Here we analyzed novel Hsp70 substrates, based on tandem repeats of NanoLuc (Nluc), a small and highly bioluminescent protein with unique structural characteristics. In previous mechanical unfolding and refolding studies, we have identified interesting misfolding propensities of these Nluc‐based tandem repeats. In this study, we further investigate these properties through in vitro bulk experiments. Similar to monomeric Nluc, engineered Nluc dyads and triads proved to be highly bioluminescent. Using the bioluminescence signal as the proxy for their structural integrity, we determined that heat‐denatured Nluc dyads and triads can be efficiently refolded by theE. coliHsp70 chaperone system, which comprises DnaK, DnaJ, and GrpE. In contrast to previous studies with other substrates, we observed that Nluc repeats can be efficiently refolded by DnaK and DnaJ, even in the absence of GrpE co‐chaperone. Taken together, our study offers a new powerful substrate for chaperone research and raises intriguing questions about the Hsp70 mechanisms, particularly in the context of structurally diverse proteins.

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  3. null (Ed.)
    NanoLuc is a bioluminescent protein recently engineered for applications in molecular imaging and cellular reporter assays. Compared to other bioluminescent proteins used for these applications, like Firefly Luciferase and Renilla Luciferase, it is ~150 times brighter, more thermally stable, and smaller. Yet, no information is known with regards to its mechanical properties, which could introduce a new set of applications for this unique protein, such as a novel biomaterial or as a substrate for protein activity/refolding assays. Here, we generated a synthetic NanoLuc derivative protein that consists of three connected NanoLuc proteins flanked by two human titin I91 domains on each side and present our mechanical studies at the single molecule level by performing Single Molecule Force Spectroscopy (SMFS) measurements. Our results show each NanoLuc repeat in the derivative behaves as a single domain protein, with a single unfolding event occurring on average when approximately 72 pN is applied to the protein. Additionally, we performed cyclic measurements, where the forces applied to a single protein were cyclically raised then lowered to allow the protein the opportunity to refold: we observed the protein was able to refold to its correct structure after mechanical denaturation only 16.9% of the time, while another 26.9% of the time there was evidence of protein misfolding to a potentially non-functional conformation. These results show that NanoLuc is a mechanically moderately weak protein that is unable to robustly refold itself correctly when stretch-denatured, which makes it an attractive model for future protein folding and misfolding studies. 
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  4. null (Ed.)