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Concept: Cell membrane


Polybia-MP1 (MP1) is a bioactive host-defense peptide with known anticancer properties. Its activity is attributed to excess serine (phosphatidylserine (PS)) on the outer leaflet of cancer cells. Recently, higher quantities of phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) were also found at these cells' surface. We investigate the interaction of MP1 with model membranes in the presence and absence of POPS (PS) and DOPE (PE) to understand the role of lipid composition in MP1’s anticancer characteristics. Indeed we find that PS lipids significantly enhance the bound concentration of peptide on the membrane by a factor of 7-8. However, through a combination of membrane permeability assays and imaging techniques we find that PE significantly increases the susceptibility of the membrane to disruption by these peptides and causes an order-of-magnitude increase in membrane permeability by facilitating the formation of larger transmembrane pores. Significantly, atomic-force microscopy imaging reveals differences in the pore formation mechanism with and without the presence of PE. Therefore, PS and PE lipids synergistically combine to enhance membrane poration by MP1, implying that the combined enrichment of both these lipids in the outer leaflet of cancer cells is highly significant for MP1’s anticancer action. These mechanistic insights could aid development of novel chemotherapeutics that target pathological changes in the lipid composition of cancerous cells.

Concepts: Protein, Cancer, Breast cancer, Oncology, Cell membrane, Chemotherapy, Leukemia, Lipid bilayer


Chlamydia trachomatis is obligate intracellular bacterial pathogen that remains a significant public health burden worldwide. A critical early event during infection is chlamydial entry into non-phagocytic host epithelial cells. Like other Gram-negative bacteria, C.trachomatis uses a type III secretion system (T3SS) to deliver virulence effector proteins into host cells. These effectors trigger bacterial uptake and promote bacterial survival and replication within the host cell. In this review, we highlight recent cryo-electron tomography that has provided striking insights into the initial interactions between Chlamydia and its host. We describe the polarised structure of extracellular C.trachomatis elementary bodies (EBs), and the supramolecular organisation of T3SS complexes on the EB surface, in addition to the changes in host and pathogen architecture that accompany bacterial internalisation and EB encapsulation into early intracellular vacuoles. Finally, we consider the implications for further understanding the mechanism of C.trachomatis entry and how this might relate to those of other bacteria and viruses.

Concepts: Cell, Bacteria, Microbiology, Cell membrane, Secretion, Cell biology, Chlamydiae, Chlamydia


Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin with antioxidant properties. Tocopherols are the predominant form of vitamin E found in the diet and in supplements and have garnered interest for their potential cancer therapeutic and preventive effects, such as the dephosphorylation of Akt, a serine/threonine kinase with a pivotal role in cell growth, survival, and metabolism. Dephosphorylation of Akt at Ser(473) substantially reduces its catalytic activity and inhibits downstream signaling. We found that the mechanism by which α-tocopherol and γ-tocopherol facilitate this site-specific dephosphorylation of Akt was mediated through the pleckstrin homology (PH) domain-dependent recruitment of Akt and PHLPP1 (PH domain leucine-rich repeat protein phosphatase, isoform 1) to the plasma membrane. We structurally optimized these tocopherols to obtain derivatives with greater in vitro potency and in vivo tumor-suppressive activity in two prostate xenograft tumor models. Binding affinities for the PH domains of Akt and PHLPP1 were greater than for other PH domain-containing proteins, which may underlie the preferential recruitment of these proteins to membranes containing tocopherols. Molecular modeling revealed the structural determinants of the interaction with the PH domain of Akt that may inform strategies for continued structural optimization. By describing a mechanism by which tocopherols facilitate the dephosphorylation of Akt at Ser(473), we provide insights into the mode of antitumor action of tocopherols and a rationale for the translational development of tocopherols into novel PH domain-targeted Akt inhibitors.

Concepts: Protein, Protein structure, Signal transduction, Metabolism, Enzyme, Cell membrane, Antioxidant, PHLPP


G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) play essential roles in various physiological processes, and are widely targeted by pharmaceutical drugs. Despite their importance, studying GPCRs has been problematic due to difficulties in isolating large quantities of these membrane proteins in forms that retain their ligand binding capabilities. Creating water-soluble variants of GPCRs by mutating the exterior, transmembrane residues provides a potential method to overcome these difficulties. Here we present the first study involving the computational design, expression and characterization of water-soluble variant of a human GPCR, the human mu opioid receptor (MUR), which is involved in pain and addiction. An atomistic structure of the transmembrane domain was built using comparative (homology) modeling and known GPCR structures. This structure was highly similar to the subsequently determined structure of the murine receptor and was used to computationally design 53 mutations of exterior residues in the transmembrane region, yielding a variant intended to be soluble in aqueous media. The designed variant expressed in high yield in Escherichia coli and was water soluble. The variant shared structural and functionally related features with the native human MUR, including helical secondary structure and comparable affinity for the antagonist naltrexone (K d  = 65 nM). The roles of cholesterol and disulfide bonds on the stability of the receptor variant were also investigated. This study exemplifies the potential of the computational approach to produce water-soluble variants of GPCRs amenable for structural and functionally related characterization in aqueous solution.

Concepts: Protein, Signal transduction, Cell membrane, Receptor, Opioid receptor, G protein-coupled receptor, Metabotropic glutamate receptor, Solutions


A highly crystallizable T4 lysozyme (T4L) was fused to the N-terminus of the β(2) adrenergic receptor (β(2)AR), a G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) for catecholamines. We demonstrate that the N-terminal fused T4L is sufficiently rigid relative to the receptor to facilitate crystallogenesis without thermostabilizing mutations or the use of a stabilizing antibody, G protein, or protein fused to the 3rd intracellular loop. This approach adds to the protein engineering strategies that enable crystallographic studies of GPCRs alone or in complex with a signaling partner.

Concepts: Protein, Signal transduction, Cell membrane, G protein-coupled receptor, Metabotropic glutamate receptor, Guanine nucleotide exchange factor, G protein, Beta-2 adrenergic receptor


Residence within a customized vacuole is a highly successful strategy used by diverse intracellular microorganisms. The parasitophorous vacuole membrane (PVM) is the critical interface between Plasmodium parasites and their possibly hostile, yet ultimately sustaining, host cell environment. We show that torins, developed as ATP-competitive mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) kinase inhibitors, are fast-acting antiplasmodial compounds that unexpectedly target the parasite directly, blocking the dynamic trafficking of the Plasmodium proteins exported protein 1 (EXP1) and upregulated in sporozoites 4 (UIS4) to the liver stage PVM and leading to efficient parasite elimination by the hepatocyte. Torin2 has single-digit, or lower, nanomolar potency in both liver and blood stages of infection in vitro and is likewise effective against both stages in vivo, with a single oral dose sufficient to clear liver stage infection. Parasite elimination and perturbed trafficking of liver stage PVM-resident proteins are both specific aspects of torin-mediated Plasmodium liver stage inhibition, indicating that torins have a distinct mode of action compared with currently used antimalarials.

Concepts: Protein, Cell, Bacteria, Cell membrane, Liver, In vivo, In vitro, Membrane protein


Integrin clustering plays a pivotal role in a host of cell functions. Hetero-dimeric integrin adhesion receptors regulate cell migration, survival, and differentiation by communicating signals bidirectionally across the plasma membrane. Thus far, crystallographic structures of integrin components are solved only separately, and for some integrin types. Also, the sequence of interactions that leads to signal transduction remains ambiguous. Particularly, it remains controversial whether the homo-dimerization of integrin transmembrane domains occurs following the integrin activation (i.e. when integrin ectodomain is stretched out) or if it regulates integrin clustering. This study employs molecular dynamics modeling approaches to address these questions in molecular details and sheds light on the crucial effect of the plasma membrane. Conducting a normal mode analysis of the intact αllbβ3 integrin, it is demonstrated that the ectodomain and transmembrane-cytoplasmic domains are connected via a membrane-proximal hinge region, thus merely transmembrane-cytoplasmic domains are modeled. By measuring the free energy change and force required to form integrin homo-oligomers, this study suggests that the β-subunit homo-oligomerization potentially regulates integrin clustering, as opposed to α-subunit, which appears to be a poor regulator for the clustering process. If α-subunits are to regulate the clustering they should overcome a high-energy barrier formed by a stable lipid pack around them. Finally, an outside-in activation-clustering scenario is speculated, explaining how further loading the already-active integrin affects its homo-oligomerization so that focal adhesions grow in size.

Concepts: Protein, Signal transduction, Cell membrane, Cell biology, Cell signaling, G protein-coupled receptor, Gibbs free energy, Normal mode


The peptidoglycan wall is a defining feature of bacterial cells and was probably already present in their last common ancestor. L-forms are bacterial variants that lack a cell wall and divide by a variety of processes involving membrane blebbing, tubulation, vesiculation and fission. Their unusual mode of proliferation provides a model for primitive cells and is reminiscent of recently developed in vitro vesicle reproduction processes. Invention of the cell wall may have underpinned the explosion of bacterial life on the Earth. Later innovations in cell envelope structure, particularly the emergence of the outer membrane of Gram-negative bacteria, possibly in an early endospore former, seem to have spurned further major evolutionary radiations. Comparative studies of bacterial cell envelope structure may help to resolve the early key steps in evolutionary development of the bacterial domain of life.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Evolution, Organism, Microbiology, Cell membrane, Cell wall, Bacterial cell structure


Borrelia burgdorferi, the agent of Lyme disease, has cholesterol and cholesterol-glycolipids that are essential for bacterial fitness, are antigenic, and could be important in mediating interactions with cells of the eukaryotic host. We show that the spirochetes can acquire cholesterol from plasma membranes of epithelial cells. In addition, through fluorescent and confocal microscopy combined with biochemical approaches, we demonstrated that B. burgdorferi labeled with the fluorescent cholesterol analog BODIPY-cholesterol or (3)H-labeled cholesterol transfer both cholesterol and cholesterol-glycolipids to HeLa cells. The transfer occurs through two different mechanisms, by direct contact between the bacteria and eukaryotic cell and/or through release of outer membrane vesicles. Thus, two-way lipid exchange between spirochetes and host cells can occur. This lipid exchange could be an important process that contributes to the pathogenesis of Lyme disease.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Eukaryote, Cell membrane, Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi, Borrelia, Spirochaete


The purpose of this study is to report two cases of idiopathic uveitis with secondary epiretinal membrane (ERM) formation in order to describe histologic and immunohistochemical features that may help distinguish uveitic from idiopathic ERMs.

Concepts: Medical terms, Cell membrane, Histology, Immunohistochemistry, Epiretinal membrane, Membrane