The acute phase protein haptoglobin is a mammalian extracellular chaperone with an action similar to clusterin
Haptoglobin (Hp) is an acidic glycoprotein present in most body fluids of humans and other mammals. Although the functions of Hp are not yet fully understood, the available evidence indicates that it is likely to play an important role in suppressing inflammatory responses. Some earlier work suggested that Hp might be a newly identified member of a small group of extracellular chaperones found at significant levels in human body fluids. Previously, the only well-characterized member of this group was clusterin, which shares functional similarities with the small heat-shock proteins. We report here that Hp specifically inhibited the precipitation of a variety of proteins induced by either heat or oxidation, including proteins in unfractionated human serum. We also show that, like clusterin, Hp (i) inhibits the precipitation of stressed proteins by forming solubilized high molecular weight complexes with them, (ii) cannot protect enzymes from heat-induced loss of function, and (iii) lacks ATPase activity and the ability to independently refold proteins following stresses. Furthermore, we show that Hp has maximum chaperone activity at mildly alkaline pH and, unlike clusterin, does not undergo significant changes in oligomerization state coincident with pH-induced changes in chaperone activity. Our results raise the possibility that Hp may exert an anti-inflammatory action in vivo by inhibiting the inappropriate self-association of “damaged” (misfolded) extracellular proteins.