Background: Alpha crystallin is an oligomer composed of two types of subunits, alpha-A and alpha-B crystallin, and is the major constituent of human lens. The temperature induced condensation of alpha-crystallin, the main cause for eye lens opacification (cataract), is a two step-process, a nucleation followed by an aggregation phase, and a protective effect towards the aggregation is exhibited over the alpha crystallin phase transition temperature (Tc = 318.16 K). Methods/Results: To investigate if a modulation of the subunit interactions over Tc could trigger the protective mechanism towards the aggregation, we followed, by using simultaneously static and dynamic light scattering, the temperature induced condensation of alpha-crystallin. By developing a mathematical model able to uncouple the nucleation and aggregation processes, we find a previously unobserved transition in the nucleation rate constant. Its temperature dependence allows to determine fundamental structural parameters, the chemical potential (Dm) and the interfacial tension (c) of the aggregating phase, that characterize subunit interactions. Conclusions/General Significance: The decrease of both Dm and c at Tc, and a relative increase in solubility, reveal a significative decrease in the strenght of alpha-crystallin subunits interactions, which protects from supramolecolar condensation in hypertermic conditions. On the whole, we suggest a general approach able to understand the structural and kinetic mechanisms involved in aggregation-related diseases and in drugs development and testing.
- Light Scattering
- proteins aggregation