The ATP-dependent molecular chaperone Hsp90 is an essential and abundant stress protein in the eukaryotic cytosol that cooperates with a cohort of cofactors/cochaperones to fulfill its cellular tasks. We have identified Aha1 (activator of Hsp90 ATPase) and its relative Hch1 (high copy Hsp90 suppressor) as binding partners of Hsp90 in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. By using genetic and biochemical approaches, the middle domain of Hsp90 (amino acids 272-617) was found to mediate the interaction with Aha1 and Hch1. Data base searches revealed that homologues of Aha1 are conserved from yeast to man, whereas Hch1 was found to be restricted to lower eukaryotes like S. cerevisiae and Candida albicans. In experiments with purified proteins, Aha1 but not Hch1 stimulated the intrinsic ATPase activity of Hsp90 5-fold. To establish their cellular role further, we deleted the genes encoding Aha1 and Hch1 in S. cerevisiae. In vivo experiments demonstrated that Aha1 and Hch1 contributed to efficient activation of the heterologous Hsp90 client protein v-Src. Moreover, Aha1 and Hch1 became crucial for cell viability under non-optimal growth conditions when Hsp90 levels are limiting. Thus, our results identify a novel type of cofactor involved in the regulation of the molecular chaperone Hsp90.
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