Heat shock protein 47 (HSP47) is an endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-resident molecular chaperone that specifically recognizes triple helical portions of procollagens. The chaperone function of HSP47 is indispensable in mammals, and hsp47-null mice show an embryonic lethal phenotype accompanied by severe abnormalities in collagen-based tissue structures. Two leading hypotheses are currently accepted for the molecular function of HSP47 as a procollagen-specific chaperone. One is facilitation of procollagen folding by stabilizing thermally unstable triple helical folding intermediates, and the other is inhibition of procollagen aggregation or lateral association in the ER. The aim of this study was to elucidate the functional essence of this unique chaperone using fibroblasts established from hsp47−/− mouse embryos. When the cells were cultured at 37 °C, various defects in procollagen biosynthesis were observed, such as accumulation in the ER, over-modifications including prolyl hydroxylation, lysyl hydroxylation, and further glycosylation, and unusual secretion of type I collagen homotrimer. All defects were corrected by culturing the cells at a lower temperature of 33 °C. These results indicated that lowering the culture temperature compensated for the loss of HSP47. This study elucidated that HSP47 stabilizes the elongating triple helix of procollagens, which is otherwise unstable at the body temperature of mammals.
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