We describe a new class of plant small heat stress proteins (sHsps) with dominant nuclear localization (Hsp17-CIII). The corresponding proteins in tomato, Arabidopsis, and rice are encoded by unique genes containing a short intron in the β4-encoding region of the α-crystallin domain (ACD). The strong nuclear localization results from a cluster of basic amino acid residues in the loop between β5 and β6 of the ACD. Using yeast 2-hybrid tests, analyses of native complexes of the sHsps, and immunofluorescence data, we demonstrate that, in contrast to earlier observations (Kirschner et al 2000), proteins of the sHsp classes CI, CII, and CIII interact with each other, thereby influencing oligomerization state and intracellular localization.
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