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 several 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 highlights the ability of DHR81 condensates to sequester caspase-7. Taken together, this work draws a link between extremotolerance-associated proteins, condensate formation, and designing human cellular protection.
- intrinsically disordered proteins
- phase separation
- stress tolerance
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biomedical Engineering
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (miscellaneous)