Tag Archives: Endoplasmic reticulum

Answer to Friday’s homework problem

2 days ago you were tasked with the following homework problem: Design a protein to capture cholesterol and triglycerides and insert them between the two leaflets of the standard biological membrane similar but not identical to the plasma membrane.

Why not just tell you Nature/God/Evolution’s solution to the problem?  Because unless you’ve thought about how you’d do it, you won’t appreciate the elegance (and beauty to a chemist) of the solution. 

Lipid droplets are how your cells store cholesterol and triglycerides (neutral fats).  Cholesterol and most fats are made in the lumen of the endoplasmic reticulum.  Then they move through the homework protein and accumulate between the two leaflets of the endoplasmic reticulum membrane, growing into lens-like structures with diameters of 400 to 600 Angstroms before they leave to enter the cytoplasm.  

Well clearly to get them between the sheets so to speak a hole must be formed in the membrane leaflet closest to the lumen, and the hole must have open sides so the cholesterol and triglyceride can escape.  

The protein must also catch the lipids in the lumen.  This is accomplished by an 8 stranded beta sandwich.  The protein must also cross the endoplasmic reticulum membrane so the lipids its caught can escape the sides.  

Like a lot of pores in the membrane (such as ion channels), several copies of the protein must come together to form the hole.  In this case the protein contains two transmembrane alpha helices.  Its hard to count just how many monomers make up the power, but my guess is 11 or so. 

Here’s a picture


The transmembrane (TM)alpha helices are in purple, the beta sandwiches are in blue-greem.

8 nm is 8 nanoMeters or 800 angstroms.  The hole looks to be around 30 Angstroms across — plenty of room to allow cholesterol and triglycerides to enter.  When you look at the top view you see that there is plenty of room between the alpha helices within the membrane for the lipids to escape out the side.  

Here’s the reference https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/118/10/e2017205118.full.pdf

and the citation Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. vol. 118 pp. e2017205118 ’21.  It’s a beautiful paper

The protein itself is called seipin, and mutations cause a variety of lipodystrophies, some of which have mental retardation.  The paper has some nice molecular dynamics simulations of seipin in action (if you believe that sort of thing). 

Were you smart enough to figure all this out on your own.  Nature/God/Evolution was.  I wasn’t.

4 Interesting papers

Here are brief summaries of 4 recent very interesting papers, each of which may be the subject of a future post (now that I’m not as worried about the effects of the Wuhan flu on family members over in Hong Kong).  They are likely behind a pay wall unfortunately

l. Watching an endoplasmic reticulum extruded tubule cut a P-body in half. Very significant as we begin to appreciate the phase transitions going on in our cells — for an overview of this see — https://luysii.wordpress.com/2018/12/16/bye-bye-stoichiometry/.

The paper(s) itself [ Science vol. 367 pp. 507 – 508, 537, eaay7108 ’20 ]

2. Watching microglia caress the cell body (soma) of neurons [ Science vol. 367 pp. 510 – 511, 528 – 537 ’20 ].  They’re actually rather creepy, extending processes and feeling up neurons, removing synapses from processes.  They use receptors for ATP and ADP to detect when a neuron is in trouble.  A new cellular specialization is described — Somatic Purinergic Junctions — a combination of mitochondria, reticular membrane structures, vesicle-like membrane structures and clusters of a particular voltage gated potassium channel (Kv2.1)

3. The ubiquitin wars inside a macrophage invaded by TB [ Nature vol. 577 pp. 682 – 688 ’20 ]  Ubiquitin initially was thought to be a tag marking a protein for destruction.  It’s much more complicated than that.  A host E3 ubiquitin ligase (ANAPC2, a core subunit of the anaphase promoting complex/cyclosome) promotes the attachment of lysine #11 linked ubiquitin chains to lysine #76 of the TB protein Rv0222.  In some way this helps Rv022 to suppress the expression of proinflammatory cytokines.

4. FACT (FAcilitates Chromatin Transcription)  is a heterodimer of two proteins which form a heterodimer [ Nature vol. 577 pp. 426 – 431 ’20 ].  If you’ve ever wondered how the monstrously large holoenzyme of RNA polymerase II, manages to work its way around the nucleosome copying one strand, you need to know about FACT, which basically grabs the disclike nucleosome with DNA wrapped around it twice, grabs both H2A-H2B dimers and holds them outside while pol II passes.  You have to wonder which came first the nucleosome or FACT. Neither would be of much use by themselves.  Probably they both grew up together, but it’s hard to envision the intermediate stages.

Are you as smart as the (inanimate) blind watchmaker

Here’s a problem the cell has solved. Can you? Figure out a way to send a protein to two different membranes in the cell (the membrane encoding it { aka the plasma membrane }, and the endoplasmic reticulum) in the proportions you wish.

The proteins must have exactly the same sequence and content of amino acids, ruling out alternative splicing of exons in the mRNA (if this is Greek to you have a look at the following post — https://luysii.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/molecular-biology-survival-guide-for-chemists-v-the-ribosome/ and the others collected under — https://luysii.wordpress.com/category/molecular-biology-survival-guide/).

The following article tells you how the cell does it. Recall that not all of the messenger RNA (mRNA) is translated into protein. The ribosome latches on to the 5′ end of the mRNA,  subsequently moving toward the 3′ end until it finds the initiator codon (AUG which codes for methionine). This means that there is a 5′ untranslated region (5′ UTR). It then continues moving 3′ ward stitching amino acids together.  Similarly after the ribosome reaches the last codon (one of 3 stop codons) there is a 3′ untranslated region (3′ UTR) of the mRNA. The 3′ UTR isn’t left alone but is cleaved and a polyAdenine tail added to it. The 3′ UTR is where most microRNAs bind controlling mRNA stability (hence the amount of protein produced from a given mRNA).

The trick used by the cell is described in [ Nature vol. 522 pp. 363 – 367 ’15 ]. The 3’UTR is alternatively processed producing a variety of short and long 3’UTRs. One such protein where this happens is CD47 — which is found on the surface of most cells where it stops the cell from being eaten by scavenger cells such as macrophages. The long 3′ UTR of CD47 allows efficient cell surface expression, while the short 3′ UTR localizes it to the endoplasmic reticulum.

How could this possibly work? Once the protein is translated by the ribosome, it leaves the ribosome and the mRNA doesn’t it? Not quite.

They say that the long 3′ UTR of CD47 acts as a scaffold to recruit a protein complex which contains HuR (aka ELAVL1), an RNA binding protein and SET to the site of translation. The allows interaction of SET with the newly translated cytoplasmic domains of CD47, resulting in subsequent translocation of CD47 to the plasma membrane via activated RAC1.

The short 3′ UTR of CD47 doesn’t have the sequence binding HuR and SET, so CD47 doesn’t get to the plasma membrane, rather to the endoplasmic reticulum.

The mechanism may be quite general as HuR binds to thousands of mRNAs. The paper gives two more examples of proteins where this happens.

It’s also worth noting that all this exquisite control, does NOT involve covalent bond formation and breakage (e.g. not what we consider classic chemical reactions). Instead it’s the dance of one large molecular object binding to another in other ways. The classic chemist isn’t smiling. The physical chemist is.