Before secretion, newly synthesized thyroglobulin (Tg) folds via a series of intermediates: disulfide-linked aggregates and unfolded monomers-->folded monomers-->dimers. Immediately after synthesis, very little Tg associated with calnexin (a membrane-bound molecular chaperone in the ER), while a larger fraction bound BiP (a lumenal ER chaperone); dissociation from these chaperones showed superficially similar kinetics. Calnexin might bind selectively to carbohydrates within glycoproteins, or to hydrophobic surfaces of secretory proteins while they form proper disulfide bonds (Wada, I., W.-J. Ou, M.-C. Liu, and G. Scheele, J. Biol. Chem. 1994. 269:7464-7472). Because Tg has multiple disulfides, as well as glycans, we tested a brief exposure of live thyrocytes to dithiothreitol, which resulted in quantitative aggregation of nascent Tg, as analyzed by SDS-PAGE of cells lysed without further reduction. Cells lysed in the presence of dithiothreitol under non-denaturing conditions caused Tg aggregates to run as reduced monomers. For cells lysed either way, after in vivo reduction, Tg coprecipitated with calnexin. After washout of dithiothreitol, nascent Tg aggregates dissolved intracellularly and were secreted ultimately. 1 h after washout, > or = 92% of labeled Tg was found to dissociate from calnexin, while the fraction of labeled Tg bound to BiP rose from 0 to approximately 40%, demonstrating a "precursor-product" relationship. Whereas intralumenal reduction was essential for efficient Tg coprecipitation with calnexin, Tg glycosylation was not required. These data are among the first to demonstrate sequential chaperone function involved in conformational maturation of nascent secretory proteins within the ER.

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