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Concept: Aquaporin


Lipid membranes are extremely stable envelopes allowing cells to survive in various environments and to maintain desired internal composition. Membrane permeation through formation of transversal pores requires substantial external stress. Practically, pores are usually formed by application of lateral tension or transmembrane voltage. Using the same approach as was used for obtaining continuous trajectory of pore formation in the stress-less membrane in the previous article, we now consider the process of pore formation under the external stress. The waiting time to pore formation proved a non-monotonous function of the lateral tension, dropping from infinity at zero tension to a minimum at the tension of several millinewtons per meter. Transmembrane voltage, on the contrary, caused the waiting time to decrease monotonously. Analysis of pore formation trajectories for several lipid species with different spontaneous curvatures and elastic moduli under various external conditions provided instrumental insights into the mechanisms underlying some experimentally observed phenomena.

Concepts: Cell membrane, Force, Membrane protein, Lipid bilayer, Trajectory, Trajectory of a projectile, Projectile, Aquaporin


Aquaporins (AQPs) feature highly selective water transport through cell membranes, where the dipolar orientation of structured water wires spanning the AQP pore is of considerable importance for the selective translocation of water over ions. We recently discovered that water permeability through artificial water channels formed by stacked imidazole I-quartet superstructures increases when the channel water molecules are highly organized. Correlating water structure with molecular transport is essential for understanding the underlying mechanisms of (fast) water translocation and channel selectivity. Chirality adds another factor enabling unique dipolar oriented water structures. We show that water molecules exhibit a dipolar oriented wire structure within chiral I-quartet water channels both in the solid state and embedded in supported lipid bilayer membranes (SLBs). X-ray single-crystal structures show that crystallographic water wires exhibit dipolar orientation, which is unique for chiral I-quartets. The integration of I-quartets into SLBs was monitored with a quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation, quantizing the amount of channel water molecules. Nonlinear sum-frequency generation vibrational spectroscopy demonstrates the first experimental observation of dipolar oriented water structures within artificial water channels inserted in bilayer membranes. Confirmation of the ordered confined water is obtained via molecular simulations, which provide quantitative measures of hydrogen bond strength, connectivity, and the stability of their dipolar alignment in a membrane environment. Together, uncovering the interplay between the dipolar aligned water structure and water transport through the self-assembled I-quartets is critical to understanding the behavior of natural membrane channels and will accelerate the systematic discovery for developing artificial water channels for water desalting.

Concepts: Electron, Cell membrane, Water, Molecule, Atom, Transmembrane protein, Quartz, Aquaporin


The hemolymph osmolarity of the freshwater mosquito larvae (Aedes aegypti) is greater than that of their habitat. To combat the influx of water, larvae cycle water entering through the gut and anal papillae to the Malpighian tubules for secretion. The presence of aquaporins (AQPs, water channels) may facilitate the movement of water across these tissues. Tissue distribution of mRNA transcripts of putative aquaporins from mosquito larvae, using quantitative PCR, revealed expression of transcripts in the Malpighian tubules and anal papillae. Four putative aquaporin transcripts are expressed in the Malpighian tubules and provide a basis for further work aimed at discovering the elusive water transporters functioning during diuresis. Transcripts of putative AQPs (AaAQP4 and AaAQP1b) are expressed in the anal papillae. Immunoreactivity to a human AQP1-antibody was found in the anal papillae and mercury inhibits tritiated water uptake in isolated anal papillae. Together, the results suggest that AQP(s) could be responsible for facilitating water transport at the papillae epithelium.

Concepts: Gene expression, Insect, Mosquito, Transport, Aedes aegypti, Aedes, Aquaporin 2, Aquaporin


High mortality of acute kidney injury (AKI) is associated with acute lung injury (ALI), which is a typical complication of AKI. Although it is suggested that dysregulation of lung salt and water channels following AKI plays a pivotal role in ALI, the mechanism of its dysregulation has not been elucidated. Here, we examined the involvement of a typical oxidative stress-inducing uremic toxin, indoxyl sulfate (IS), in the dysregulation of the pulmonary predominant water channel, aquaporin 5 (AQP-5), in bilateral nephrectomy (BNx)-induced AKI model rats. BNx evoked AKI with the increases in serum creatinine (SCr), blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and serum IS levels and exhibited thickening of interstitial tissue in the lung. Administration of AST-120, clinically-used oral spherical adsorptive carbon beads, resulted in a significant decrease in serum IS level and thickening of interstitial tissue, which was accompanied with the decreases in IS accumulation in various tissues, especially lung. Interestingly, a significant decrease in AQP-5 expression of lung was observed in BNx rats. Moreover, the BNx-induced decrease in pulmonary AQP-5 protein expression was markedly restored by oral administration of AST-120. These results suggest that BNx-induced AKI causes dysregulation of pulmonary AQP-5 expression, in which IS could play a toxico-physiological role as a mediator involved in renopulmonary crosstalk.

Concepts: Kidney, Pneumonia, Blood urea nitrogen, Creatinine, Reference ranges for blood tests, Aquaporin 2, Aquaporin, BUN-to-creatinine ratio


The plasma membrane provides an essential barrier, shielding a cell from the pressures of its external environment. Pore-forming proteins, deployed by both hosts and pathogens alike, breach this barrier to lyse target cells. Intermedilysin is a cholesterol-dependent cytolysin that requires the human immune receptor CD59, in addition to cholesterol, to form giant β-barrel pores in host membranes. Here we integrate biochemical assays with electron microscopy and atomic force microscopy to distinguish the roles of these two receptors in mediating structural transitions of pore formation. CD59 is required for the specific coordination of intermedilysin (ILY) monomers and for triggering collapse of an oligomeric prepore. Movement of Domain 2 with respect to Domain 3 of ILY is essential for forming a late prepore intermediate that releases CD59, while the role of cholesterol may be limited to insertion of the transmembrane segments. Together these data define a structural timeline for ILY pore formation and suggest a mechanism that is relevant to understanding other pore-forming toxins that also require CD59.

Concepts: Immune system, Protein, Bacteria, Signal transduction, Cell membrane, Steroid, Scanning tunneling microscope, Aquaporin


Membrane attack complex/perforin-like (MACPF) proteins comprise the largest superfamily of pore-forming proteins, playing crucial roles in immunity and pathogenesis. Soluble monomers assemble into large transmembrane pores via conformational transitions that remain to be structurally and mechanistically characterised. Here we present an 11 Å resolution cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) structure of the two-part, fungal toxin Pleurotolysin (Ply), together with crystal structures of both components (the lipid binding PlyA protein and the pore-forming MACPF component PlyB). These data reveal a 13-fold pore 80 Å in diameter and 100 Å in height, with each subunit comprised of a PlyB molecule atop a membrane bound dimer of PlyA. The resolution of the EM map, together with biophysical and computational experiments, allowed confident assignment of subdomains in a MACPF pore assembly. The major conformational changes in PlyB are a ∼70° opening of the bent and distorted central β-sheet of the MACPF domain, accompanied by extrusion and refolding of two α-helical regions into transmembrane β-hairpins (TMH1 and TMH2). We determined the structures of three different disulphide bond-trapped prepore intermediates. Analysis of these data by molecular modelling and flexible fitting allows us to generate a potential trajectory of β-sheet unbending. The results suggest that MACPF conformational change is triggered through disruption of the interface between a conserved helix-turn-helix motif and the top of TMH2. Following their release we propose that the transmembrane regions assemble into β-hairpins via top down zippering of backbone hydrogen bonds to form the membrane-inserted β-barrel. The intermediate structures of the MACPF domain during refolding into the β-barrel pore establish a structural paradigm for the transition from soluble monomer to pore, which may be conserved across the whole superfamily. The TMH2 region is critical for the release of both TMH clusters, suggesting why this region is targeted by endogenous inhibitors of MACPF function.

Concepts: Protein, Protein structure, Cell membrane, Structure, Polymer, Dimer, Monomer, Aquaporin


Pore formation is the most energy-demanding step during virus-induced membrane fusion, where high curvature of the fusion pore rim increases the spacing between lipid headgroups, exposing the hydrophobic interior of the membrane to water. How protein fusogens breach this thermodynamic barrier to pore formation is unclear. We identified a novel fusion-inducing lipid packing sensor (FLiPS) in the cytosolic endodomain of the baboon reovirus p15 fusion-associated small transmembrane (FAST) protein that is essential for pore formation during cell-cell fusion and syncytiogenesis. NMR spectroscopy and mutational studies indicate the dependence of this FLiPS on a hydrophobic helix-loop-helix structure. Biochemical and biophysical assays reveal the p15 FLiPS preferentially partitions into membranes with high positive curvature, and this partitioning is impeded by bis-ANS, a small molecule that inserts into hydrophobic defects in membranes. Most notably, the p15 FLiPS can be functionally replaced by heterologous amphipathic lipid packing sensors (ALPS) but not by other membrane-interactive amphipathic helices. Furthermore, a previously unrecognized amphipathic helix in the cytosolic domain of the reptilian reovirus p14 FAST protein can functionally replace the p15 FLiPS, and is itself replaceable by a heterologous ALPS motif. Anchored near the cytoplasmic leaflet by the FAST protein transmembrane domain, the FLiPS is perfectly positioned to insert into hydrophobic defects that begin to appear in the highly curved rim of nascent fusion pores, thereby lowering the energy barrier to stable pore formation.

Concepts: Protein, Metabolism, Cell membrane, Biochemistry, Membrane biology, Transmembrane protein, Replacement, Aquaporin


Melittin is a prototype of the ubiquitous antimicrobial peptides that induce pores in membranes. It is commonly used as a molecular device for membrane permeabilization. Even at concentrations in the nanomolar range, melittin can induce transient pores that allow transmembrane conduction of atomic ions but not leakage of glucose or larger molecules. At micromolar concentrations, melittin induces stable pores allowing transmembrane leakage of molecules up to tens of kilodaltons, corresponding to its antimicrobial activities. Despite extensive studies, aspects of the molecular mechanism for pore formation remain unclear. To clarify the mechanism, one must know the states of the melittin-bound membrane before and after the process. By correlating experiments using giant unilamellar vesicles with those of peptide-lipid multilayers, we found that melittin bound on the vesicle translocated and redistributed to both sides of the membrane before the formation of stable pores. Furthermore, stable pores are formed only above a critical peptide-to-lipid ratio. The initial states for transient and stable pores are different, which implies different mechanisms at low and high peptide concentrations. To determine the lipidic structure of the pore, the pores in peptide-lipid multilayers were induced to form a lattice and examined by anomalous X-ray diffraction. The electron density distribution of lipid labels shows that the pore is formed by merging of two interfaces through a hole. The molecular property of melittin is such that it adsorbs strongly to the bilayer interface. Pore formation can be viewed as the bilayer adopting a lipid configuration to accommodate its excessive interfacial area.

Concepts: Protein, Electron, Chemistry, Atom, Ion, Induced demand, Mole, Aquaporin


Aquaporins are membrane integral proteins responsible for the transmembrane transport of water and other small neutral molecules. Despite their well-acknowledged importance in water transport, their significance in gas transport processes remains unclear. Growing evidence points to the involvement of plant aquaporins in CO2 delivery for photosynthesis. The role of these channel proteins in the transport of O2 and other gases may also be more important than previously envisioned. In this study, we examined O2 permeability of various human, plant, and fungal aquaporins by co-expressing heterologous aquaporin and myoglobin in yeast. Two of the most promising O2-transporters (Homo sapiens AQP1 and Nicotiana tabacum PIP1;3) were confirmed to facilitate O2 transport in the spectrophotometric assay using yeast protoplasts. The over-expression of NtPIP1;3 in yeasts significantly increased their O2 uptake rates in suspension culture. In N. tabacum roots subjected to hypoxic hydroponic conditions, the transcript levels of the O2-transporting aquaporin NtPIP1;3 significantly increased after the seven-day hypoxia treatment, which was accompanied by the increase of ATP levels in the apical root segments. Our results suggest that the functional significance of aquaporin-mediated O2 transport and the possibility of controlling the rate of transmembrane O2 transport should be further explored.

Concepts: Protein, Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Human, Bacteria, Yeast, Transmembrane protein, Aquaporin


Electrophysiological studies of the interaction of polymers with pores formed by bacterial toxins (1) provide a window on single molecule interaction with proteins in real time, (2) report on the behavior of macromolecules in confinement and (3) enable label-free single molecule sensing. Using pores formed by the staphylococcal toxin alpha-hemolysin (aHL), a particularly pertinent observation was that under high salt conditions (3-4 M KCl) the current through the pore is blocked for periods of hundreds of microseconds to milliseconds by poly(ethyleneglycol) (PEG) oligomers (degree of polymerization approx. 10-60). Notably, this block showed monomeric sensitivity on the degree of polymerization of individual oligomers, allowing the construction of size or mass spectra from the residual current values. Here, we show that the current through the pore formed by aerolysin (AeL) from Aeromonas hydrophila is also blocked by PEG but with drastic differences in the voltage-dependence of the interaction. In contrast to aHL, AeL strongly binds PEG at high transmembrane voltages. This fact, which is likely related to AeL’s highly charged pore wall, allows discrimination of polymer sizes with particularly high resolution. Multiple applications are now conceivable with this pore to screen various non-ionic or charged polymers.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Polymer, Polymer chemistry, Monomer, Toxin, Polymerization, Aquaporin