It is widely believed that the chaperone activity of calreticulin is mediated by its ability to bind glycoproteins containing monoglucosylated oligosaccharides. However, calreticulin is also a polypeptide binding protein. Here we show that heat shock, calcium depletion, or deletion of the C-terminal acidic domain enhance binding of purified calreticulin to polypeptide substrates and enhance calreticulin's chaperone activity. These conditions also enhance calreticulin oligomerization, but oligomerization per se is not required for enhanced polypeptide binding. In cells, calreticulin oligomerization intermediates accumulate in response to conditions that induce protein misfolding (heat shock and tunicamycin treatments), and upon calcium depletion. Additionally, in cells, calreticulin binds to deglycosylated major histocompatibility complex class I heavy chains when significant levels of calreticulin oligomerization intermediates are induced. Thus, cell stress conditions that generate nonnative substrates of calreticulin also affect the conformational properties of calreticulin itself, and enhance its binding to substrates, independent of substrate glucosylation.
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