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Journal: Biophysical journal


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


Time-resolved Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy is a powerful tool to elucidate label-free the reaction mechanisms of proteins. After assignment of the absorption bands to individual groups of the protein, the order of events during the reaction mechanism can be monitored and rate constants can be obtained. Additionally, structural information is encoded into infrared spectra and can be decoded by combining the experimental data with biomolecular simulations. We have determined recently the infrared vibrations of GTP and guanosine diphosphate (GDP) bound to Gαi1, a ubiquitous GTPase. These vibrations are highly sensitive for the environment of the phosphate groups and thereby for the binding mode the GTPase adopts to enable fast hydrolysis of GTP. In this study we calculated these infrared vibrations from biomolecular simulations to transfer the spectral information into a computational model that provides structural information far beyond crystal structure resolution. Conformational ensembles were generated using 15 snapshots of several 100 ns molecular-mechanics/molecular-dynamics (MM-MD) simulations, followed by quantum-mechanics/molecular-mechanics (QM/MM) minimization and normal mode analysis. In comparison with other approaches, no time-consuming QM/MM-MD simulation was necessary. We carefully benchmarked the simulation systems by deletion of single hydrogen bonds between the GTPase and GTP through several Gαi1 point mutants. The missing hydrogen bonds lead to blue-shifts of the corresponding absorption bands. These band shifts for α-GTP (Gαi1-T48A), γ-GTP (Gαi1-R178S), and for both β-GTP/γ-GTP (Gαi1-K46A, Gαi1-D200E) were found in agreement in the experimental and the theoretical spectra. We applied our approach to open questions regarding Gαi1: we show that the GDP state of Gαi1 carries a Mg(2+), which is not found in x-ray structures. Further, the catalytic role of K46, a central residue of the P-loop, and the protonation state of the GTP are elucidated.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Spectroscopy, Infrared spectroscopy, Fourier transform spectroscopy, Mode shape, Normal mode, Guanosine triphosphate


A method that can rapidly quantify variations in the morphology of single red blood cells (RBCs) using light and sound is presented. When irradiated with a laser pulse, an RBC absorbs the optical energy and emits an ultrasonic pressure wave called a photoacoustic wave. The power spectrum of the resulting photoacoustic wave contains distinctive features that can be used to identify the RBC size and morphology. When particles 5-10 μm in diameter (such as RBCs) are probed with high-frequency photoacoustics, unique periodically varying minima and maxima occur throughout the photoacoustic signal power spectrum at frequencies >100 MHz. The location and distance between spectral minima scale with the size and morphology of the RBC; these shifts can be used to quantify small changes in the morphology of RBCs. Morphological deviations from the normal biconcave RBC shape are commonly associated with disease or infection. Using a single wide-bandwidth transducer sensitive to frequencies between 100 and 500 MHz, we were able to differentiate healthy RBCs from irregularly shaped RBCs (such as echinocytes, spherocytes, and swollen RBCs) with high confidence using a sample size of just 21 RBCs. As each measurement takes only seconds, these methods could eventually be translated to an automated device for rapid characterization of RBC morphology and deployed in a clinical setting to help diagnose RBC pathology.

Concepts: Cell nucleus, Blood, Red blood cell, Blood type, Bone marrow, Blood cells, Blood cell, Spherocytosis


Antibiotic tolerance and persistence are often associated with treatment failure and relapse, yet are poorly characterized. In distinction from resistance, which is measured using the minimum inhibitory concentration metric, tolerance and persistence values are not currently evaluated in the clinical setting, and so are overlooked when a course of treatment is prescribed. In this article, we introduce a metric and an automated experimental framework for measuring tolerance and persistence. The tolerance metric is the minimum duration for killing 99% of the population, MDK99, which can be evaluated by a statistical analysis of measurements performed manually or using a robotic system. We demonstrate the technique on strains of Escherichia coli with various tolerance levels. We hope that this, to our knowledge, new approach will be used, along with the existing minimum inhibitory concentration, as a standard for the in vitro characterization of sensitivity to antimicrobials. Quantification of tolerance and persistence may provide vital information in healthcare, and aid research in the field.

Concepts: Bacteria, Statistics, Measurement, Antibiotic resistance, Escherichia coli, Test method, Units of measurement, Systems of measurement


Deformability while remaining viable is an important mechanical property of cells. Red blood cells (RBCs) deform considerably while flowing through small capillaries. The RBC membrane can withstand a finite strain, beyond which it ruptures. The classical yield areal strain of 2-4% for RBCs is generally accepted for a quasi-static strain. It has been noted previously that this threshold strain may be much larger with shorter exposure duration. Here we employ an impulse-like forcing to quantify this yield strain of RBC membranes. In the experiments, RBCs are stretched within tens of microseconds by a strong shear flow generated from a laser-induced cavitation bubble. The deformation of the cells in the strongly confined geometry is captured with a high-speed camera and viability is successively monitored with fluorescence microscopy. We find that the probability of cell survival is strongly dependent on the maximum strain. Above a critical areal strain of ∼40%, permanent membrane damage is observed for 50% of the cells. Interestingly, many of the cells do not rupture immediately and exhibit ghosting, but slowly obtain a round shape before they burst. This observation is explained with structural membrane damage leading to subnanometer-sized pores. The cells finally lyse from the colloidal osmotic pressure imbalance.

Concepts: Cell nucleus, Blood, Cell membrane, Red blood cell, Tensile strength, Solid mechanics, Linear elasticity, Deformation


Single-molecule pulling experiments on unstructured proteins linked to neurodegenerative diseases have measured rupture forces comparable to those for stable folded proteins. To investigate the structural mechanisms of this unexpected force resistance, we perform pulling simulations of the amyloid β-peptide (Aβ) and α-synuclein (αS), starting from simulated conformational ensembles for the free monomers. For both proteins, the simulations yield a set of rupture events that agree well with the experimental data. By analyzing the conformations occurring shortly before rupture in each event, we find that the mechanically resistant structures share a common architecture, with similarities to the folds adopted by Aβ and αS in amyloid fibrils. The disease-linked Arctic mutation of Aβ is found to increase the occurrence of highly force-resistant structures. Our study suggests that the high rupture forces observed in Aβ and αS pulling experiments are caused by structures that might have a key role in amyloid formation.

Concepts: Causality, Structure, Tertiary structure, Prion, Neurodegeneration, Engineering, Simulation, Conformation


Cell polarization is a fundamental biological process implicated in nearly every aspect of multicellular development. The role of cell-extracellular matrix contacts in the establishment and the orientation of cell polarity have been extensively studied. However, the respective contributions of substrate mechanics and biochemistry remain unclear. Here we propose a believed novel single-cell approach to assess the minimal polarization trigger. Using nonadhered round fibroblast cells, we show that stiffness sensing through single localized integrin-mediated cues are necessary and sufficient to trigger and direct a shape polarization. In addition, the traction force developed by cells has to reach a minimal threshold of 56 ± 1.6 pN for persistent polarization. The polarization kinetics increases with the stiffness of the cue. The polarized state is characterized by cortical actomyosin redistribution together with cell shape change. We develop a physical model supporting the idea that a local and persistent inhibition of actin polymerization and/or myosin activity is sufficient to trigger and sustain the polarized state. Finally, the cortical polarity propagates to an intracellular polarity, evidenced by the reorientation of the centrosome. Our results define the minimal adhesive requirements and quantify the mechanical checkpoint for persistent cell shape and organelle polarization, which are critical regulators of tissue and cell development.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Cell, Extracellular matrix, Fibroblast, Organelle, Actin, Cytoskeleton


In hair cells, mechanotransduction channels are located in the membrane of stereocilia tips, where the base of the tip link is attached. The tip-link force determines the system of other forces in the immediate channel environment, which change the channel open probability. This system of forces includes components that are out of plane and in plane relative to the membrane; the magnitude and direction of these components depend on the channel environment and arrangement. Using a computational model, we obtained the major forces involved as functions of the force applied via the tip link at the center of the membrane. We simulated factors related to channels and the membrane, including finite-sized channels located centrally or acentrally, stiffness of the hypothesized channel-cytoskeleton tether, and bending modulus of the membrane. Membrane forces are perpendicular to the directions of the principal curvatures of the deformed membrane. Our approach allows for a fine vectorial picture of the local forces gating the channel; membrane forces change with the membrane curvature and are themselves sufficient to affect the open probability of the channel.

Concepts: General relativity, Action potential, Continuum mechanics, Cochlea, Classical mechanics, Applied mathematics, Universe, Curvature


We show that regenerating planarians' normal anterior-posterior pattern can be permanently rewritten by a brief perturbation of endogenous bioelectrical networks. Temporary modulation of regenerative bioelectric dynamics in amputated trunk fragments of planaria stochastically results in a constant ratio of regenerates with two heads to regenerates with normal morphology. Remarkably, this is shown to be due not to partial penetrance of treatment, but a profound yet hidden alteration to the animals' patterning circuitry. Subsequent amputations of the morphologically normal regenerates in water result in the same ratio of double-headed to normal morphology, revealing a cryptic phenotype that is not apparent unless the animals are cut. These animals do not differ from wild-type worms in histology, expression of key polarity genes, or neoblast distribution. Instead, the altered regenerative bodyplan is stored in seemingly normal planaria via global patterns of cellular resting potential. This gradient is functionally instructive, and represents a multistable, epigenetic anatomical switch: experimental reversals of bioelectric state reset subsequent regenerative morphology back to wild-type. Hence, bioelectric properties can stably override genome-default target morphology, and provide a tractable control point for investigating cryptic phenotypes and the stochasticity of large-scale epigenetic controls.

Concepts: Gene, Gene expression, Evolution, Regeneration, Phenotype, Anatomy, Pattern, Stochastic


Hydra, a simple freshwater animal famous for its regenerative capabilities, must tear a hole through its epithelial tissue each time it opens its mouth. The feeding response of Hydra has been well-characterized physiologically and is regarded as a classical model system for environmental chemical biology. However, due to a lack of in vivo labeling and imaging tools, the biomechanics of mouth opening have remained completely unexplored. We take advantage of the availability of transgenic Hydra lines to perform the first dynamical analysis, to our knowledge, of Hydra mouth opening and test existing hypotheses regarding the underlying cellular mechanisms. Through cell position and shape tracking, we show that mouth opening is accompanied by changes in cell shape, but not cellular rearrangements as previously suggested. Treatment with a muscle relaxant impairs mouth opening, supporting the hypothesis that mouth opening is an active process driven by radial contractile processes (myonemes) in the ectoderm. Furthermore, we find that all events exhibit the same relative rate of opening. Because one individual can open consecutively to different amounts, this suggests that the degree of mouth opening is controlled through neuronal signaling. Finally, from the opening dynamics and independent measurements of the elastic properties of the tissues, we estimate the forces exerted by the myonemes to be on the order of a few nanoNewtons. Our study provides the first dynamical framework, to our knowledge, for understanding the remarkable plasticity of the Hydra mouth and illustrates that Hydra is a powerful system for quantitative biomechanical studies of cell and tissue behaviors in vivo.

Concepts: Scientific method, Tissues, Skin, Connective tissue, Null hypothesis, The Hydra