Intrinsic structural disorder is a prevalent feature of proteins with chaperone activity. Using a complementary set of techniques, we have structurally characterized LjIDP1 (intrinsically disordered protein 1) from the model legume Lotus japonicus, and our results provide the first structural characterization of a member of the Lea5 protein family (PF03242). Contrary to in silico predictions, we show that LjIDP1 is intrinsically disordered and probably exists as an ensemble of conformations with limited residual β-sheet, turn/loop, and polyproline II secondary structure. Furthermore, we show that LjIDP1 has an inherent propensity to undergo a large conformational shift, adopting a largely α-helical structure when it is dehydrated and in the presence of different detergents and alcohols. This is consistent with an overrepresentation of order-promoting residues in LjIDP1 compared with the average of intrinsically disordered proteins. In line with functioning as a chaperone, we show that LjIDP1 effectively prevents inactivation of two model enzymes under conditions that promote protein misfolding and aggregation. The LjIdp1 gene is expressed in all L. japonicus tissues tested. A higher expression level was found in the root tip proximal zone, in roots inoculated with compatible endosymbiotic M. loti, and in functional nitrogen-fixing root nodules. We suggest that the ability of LjIDP1 to prevent protein misfolding and aggregation may play a significant role in tissues, such as symbiotic root nodules, which are characterized by high metabolic activity
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