Posts Tagged ‘ion transfer’

Integrins, Cadherins, Signaling and the Cytoskeleton

Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP 


We have reviewed the cytoskeleton, cytoskeleton pores and ionic translocation under lipids. We shall now look at this again, with specific attention to proteins, transporters and signaling.

Integrins and extracellular matrix in mechanotransduction

Lindsay Ramage
Queen’s Medical Research Institute, University of Edinburgh,

Edinburgh, UK
Cell Health and Cytoskeleton 2012; 4: 1–9

Integrins are a family of cell surface receptors which

  • mediate cell–matrix and cell–cell adhesions.

Among other functions they provide an important

  • mechanical link between the cells external and intracellular environments while
  • the adhesions that they form also have critical roles in cellular signal-transduction.

Cell–matrix contacts occur at zones in the cell surface where

  • adhesion receptors cluster and when activated
  • the receptors bind to ligands in the extracellular matrix.

The extracellular matrix surrounds the cells of tissues and forms the

  • structural support of tissue which is particularly important in connective tissues.

Cells attach to the extracellular matrix through

  • specific cell-surface receptors and molecules
  • including integrins and transmembrane proteoglycans.

Integrins work alongside other proteins such as

  • cadherins,
  • immunoglobulin superfamily
  • cell adhesion molecules,
  • selectins, and
  • syndecans

to mediate

  • cell–cell and
  • cell–matrix interactions and communication.

Activation of adhesion receptors triggers the formation of matrix contacts in which

  • bound matrix components,
  • adhesion receptors,
  • and associated intracellular cytoskeletal and signaling molecules

form large functional, localized multiprotein complexes.

Cell–matrix contacts are important in a variety of different cell and

tissue properties including

  1. embryonic development,
  2. inflammatory responses,
  3. wound healing,
  4. and adult tissue homeostasis.

This review summarizes the roles and functions of integrins and extracellular matrix proteins in mechanotransduction.

Integrins are a family of αβ heterodimeric receptors which act as

  • cell adhesion molecules
  • connecting the ECM to the actin cytoskeleton.

The actin cytoskeleton is involved in the regulation of

  1. cell motility,
  2. cell polarity,
  3. cell growth, and
  4. cell survival.

The integrin family consists of around 25 members which are composed of differing

  • combinations of α and β subunits.

The combination of αβ subunits determines

  • binding specificity and
  • signaling properties.

In mammals around 19 α and eight β subunits have been characterized.

Both α and β integrin subunits contain two separate tails, which

  • penetrate the plasma membrane and possess small cytoplasmic domains which facilitate
  • the signaling functions of the receptor.

There is some evidence that the β subunit is the principal

site for

  • binding of cytoskeletal and signaling molecules,

whereas the α subunit has a regulatory role. The integrin


  • link the ECM to the actin cytoskeleton within the cell and with cytoplasmic proteins,

such as talin, tensin, and filamin. The extracellular domains of integrin receptors bind the ECM ligands.

The ECM is a complex mixture of matrix molecules, including -glycoproteins, collagens, laminins, glycosaminoglycans, proteoglycans,
and nonmatrix proteins, – including growth factors.
These can be categorized as insoluble molecules within the ECM, soluble molecules, and/or matrix-associated biochemicals, such as systemic hormones or growth factors and cytokines that act locally.

The integrin receptor formed from the binding of α and β subunits is shaped like a globular head supported by two rod-like legs (Figure 1). Most of the contact between the two subunits occurs in the head region, with the intracellular tails of the subunits forming the legs of the receptor.6 Integrin recognition of ligands is not constitutive but is regulated by alteration of integrin affinity for ligand binding. For integrin binding to ligands to occur the integrin must be primed and activated, both of which involve conformational changes to the receptor.

The integrins are composed of well-defined domains used for protein–protein interactions. The α-I domains of α integrin subunits comprise the ligand binding sites. X-ray crystallography has identified an α-I domain within the β subunit and a β propeller domain within the α subunit which complex to form the ligand-binding head of the integrin.

The use of activating and conformation-specific antibodies also suggests that the β chain is extended in the active integrin. It has since been identified that the hybrid domain in the β chain is critical for integrin activation, and a swing-out movement of this leg activates integrins.

DBP6: Integrin





Linking integrin conformation to function

Figure  Integrin binding to extracellular matrix (ECM). Conformational changes to integrin structure and clustering of subunits which allow enhanced function of the receptor.

integrin coupled to F-actin via linker

integrin coupled to F-actin via linker

Integrin extracellular binding activity is regulated from inside the cell and binding to the ECM induces signals that are transmitted into the cell.15 This bidirectional signaling requires

  • dynamic,
  • spatially, and
  • temporally regulated formation and
  • disassembly of multiprotein complexes that
    form around the short cytoplasmic tails of integrins.

Ligand binding to integrin family members leads to clustering of integrin molecules in the plasma membrane and recruitment of actin filaments and intracellular signaling molecules to the cytoplasmic domain of the integrins. This forms focal adhesion complexes which are able to maintain

  • not only adhesion to the ECM
  • but are involved in complex signaling pathways

which include establishing

  1. cell polarity,
  2. directed cell migration, and
  3. maintaining cell growth and survival.

Initial activation through integrin adhesion to matrix recruits up to around 50 diverse signaling molecules

  • to assemble the focal adhesion complex
  • which is capable of responding to environmental stimuli efficiently.

Mapping of the integrin

  • adhesome binding and signaling interactions

identified a network of 156 components linked together which can be modified by 690 interactions.

The binding of the adaptor protein talin to the β subunit cytoplasmic tail is known to have a key role in integrin activation. This is thought to occur through the disruption of

  • inhibitory interactions between α and β subunit cytoplasmic tails.

Talin also binds

  • to actin and to cytoskeletal and signaling proteins.

This allows talin to directly link activated integrins

to signaling events and the cytoskeleton.
Genetic programming occurs with the binding of integrins to the ECM

Signal transduction pathway activation arising from integrin-

ECM binding results in changes in gene expression of cells

and leads to alterations in cell and tissue function. Various

different effects can arise depending on the

  1. cell type,
  2. matrix composition, and
  3. integrins activated.

One way in which integrin expression is important in genetic programming is in the fate and differentiation of stem cells.
Osteoblast differentiation occurs through ECM interactions

with specific integrins

  • to initiate intracellular signaling pathways leading to osteoblast-specific gene expression
  • disruption of interactions between integrins and collagen;
  • fibronectin blocks osteoblast differentiation and

Disruption of α2 integrin prevents osteoblast differentiation, and activation of the transcription factor

  • osteoblast-specific factor 2/core-binding factor α1.

It was found that the ECM-integrin interaction induces osteoblast-specific factor 2/core-binding factor α1 to

  • increase its activity as a transcriptional enhancer
  • rather than increasing protein levels.

It was also found that modification of α2 integrin alters

  • induction of the osteocalcin promoter;
  • inhibition of α2 prevents activation of the osteocalcin promoter,
  • overexpression enhanced osteocalcin promoter activity.

It has been suggested that integrin-type I collagen interaction is necessary for the phosphorylation and activation of osteoblast-specific transcription factors present in committed osteoprogenitor cells.

A variety of growth factors and cytokines have been shown to be important in the regulation of integrin expression and function in chondrocytes. Mechanotransduction in chondrocytes occurs through several different receptors and ion channels including integrins. During osteoarthritis the expression of integrins by chondrocytes is altered, resulting in different cellular transduction pathways which contribute to tissue pathology.

In normal adult cartilage, chondrocytes express α1β1, α10β1 (collagen receptors), α5β1, and αvβ5 (fibronectin) receptors. During mechanical loading/stimulation of chondrocytes there is an influx of ions across the cell membrane resulting from activation of mechanosensitive ion channels which can be inhibited by subunit-specific anti-integrin blocking antibodies or RGD peptides. Using these strategies it was identified that α5β1 integrin is a major mechanoreceptor in articular chondrocyte responses to mechanical loading/stimulation.

Osteoarthritic chondrocytes show a depolarization response to 0.33 Hz stimulation in contrast to the hyperpolarization response of normal chondrocytes. The mechanotransduction pathway in chondrocytes derived from normal and osteoarthritic cartilage both involve recognition of the mechanical stimulus by integrin receptors resulting in the activation of integrin signaling pathways leading to the generation of a cytokine loop. Normal and osteoarthritic chondrocytes show differences at multiple stages of the mechanotransduction cascade (Figure 3). Early events are similar; α5β1 integrin and stretch activated ion channels are activated and result in rapid tyrosine phosphorylation events. The actin cytoskeleton is required for the integrin-dependent Mechanotransduction leading to changes in membrane potential in normal but not osteoarthritic chondrocytes.

Cell–matrix interactions are essential for maintaining the integrity of tissues. An intact matrix is essential for cell survival and proliferation and to allow efficient mechanotransduction and tissue homeostasis. Cell–matrix interactions have been extensively studied in many tissues and this knowledge is being used to develop strategies to treat pathology. This is particularly important in tissues subject to abnormal mechanical loading, such as musculoskeletal tissues. Integrin-ECM interactions are being used to enhance tissue repair mechanisms in these tissues through differentiation of progenitor cells for in vitro and in vivo use. Knowledge of how signaling cascades are differentially regulated in response to physiological and pathological external stimuli (including ECM availability and mechanical loading/stimulation) will enable future strategies to be developed to prevent and treat the progression of pathology associated with integrin-ECM interactions.

Cellular adaptation to mechanical stress: role of integrins, Rho, cytoskeletal tension and mechanosensitive ion channels

  1. Matthews, DR. Overby, R Mannix and DE. Ingber
    1Vascular Biology Program, Departments of Pathology and Surgery, Children’s Hospital, and 2Department of Pediatrics, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA J Cell Sci 2006; 119: 508-518.

To understand how cells sense and adapt to mechanical stress, we applied tensional forces to magnetic microbeads bound to cell-surface integrin receptors and measured changes in bead isplacement with sub-micrometer resolution using optical microscopy. Cells exhibited four types of mechanical responses: (1) an immediate viscoelastic response;

(2) early adaptive behavior characterized by pulse-to-pulse attenuation in response to oscillatory forces;

(3) later adaptive cell stiffening with sustained (>15 second) static stresses; and

(4) a large-scale repositioning response with prolonged (>1 minute) stress.

Importantly, these adaptation responses differed biochemically. The immediate and early responses were affected by

  • chemically dissipating cytoskeletal prestress (isometric tension), whereas
  • the later adaptive response was not.

The repositioning response was prevented by

  • inhibiting tension through interference with Rho signaling,

similar to the case of the immediate and early responses, but it was also prevented by

  • blocking mechanosensitive ion channels or
  • by inhibiting Src tyrosine kinases.

All adaptive responses were suppressed by cooling cells to 4°C to slow biochemical remodeling. Thus, cells use multiple mechanisms to sense and respond to static and dynamic changes in the level of mechanical stress applied to integrins.

Microtubule-Stimulated ADP Release, ATP Binding, and Force Generation In Transport Kinesins

J Atherton, I Farabella, I-Mei Yu, SS Rosenfeld, A Houdusse, M Topf, CA Moores

1Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology, Department of Biological Sciences, Birkbeck College, University of London, London, United Kingdom; 2Structural Motility, Institut Curie, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris, France; 3Department of Cancer Biology, Lerner Research Institute, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, United States
eLife 2014;3:e03680.

Kinesins are a large family of microtubule (MT)-based motors that play important roles in many cellular activities including

  • mitosis,
  • motility, and
  • intracellular transport

Their involvement in a range of pathological processes also highlights their significance as therapeutic targets and the importance of understanding the molecular basis of their function They are defined by their motor domains that contain both the microtubule (MT) and ATP binding sites. Three ATP binding motifs—the P-loop, switch I, switch II–are highly conserved among kinesins, myosin motors, and small GTPases. They share a conserved mode of MT binding such that MT binding, ATP binding, and hydrolysis are functionally coupled for efficient MT-based work.

The interior of a cell is a hive of activity, filled with proteins and other items moving from one location to another. A network of filaments called microtubules forms tracks along which so-called motor proteins carry these items. Kinesins are one group of motor proteins, and a typical kinesin protein has one end (called the ‘motor domain’) that can attach itself to the microtubules.

The other end links to the cargo being carried, and a ‘neck’ connects the two. When two of these proteins work together, flexible regions of the neck allow the two motor domains to move past one another, which enable the kinesin to essentially walk along a microtubule in a stepwise manner.

Atherton et al. use a technique called cryo-electron microscopy to study—in more detail than previously seen—the structure of the motor domains of two types of kinesin called kinesin-1 and kinesin-3. Images were taken at different stages of the cycle used by the motor domains to extract the energy from ATP molecules. Although the two kinesins have been thought to move along the microtubule tracks in different ways, Atherton et al. find that the core mechanism used by their motor domains is the same.

When a motor domain binds to the microtubule, its shape changes, first stimulating release of the breakdown products of ATP from the previous cycle. This release makes room for a new ATP molecule to bind. The structural changes caused by ATP binding are relatively small but produce larger changes in the flexible neck region that enable individual motor domains within a kinesin pair to co-ordinate their movement and move in a consistent direction. This mechanism involves tight coupling between track binding and fuel usage and makes kinesins highly efficient motors.

A number of kinesins drive long distance transport of cellular cargo with dimerisation allowing them to take multiple 8 nm ATP-driven steps toward MT plus ends. Their processivity depends on communication between the two motor domains, which is achieved via the neck linker that connects each motor domain to the dimer-forming coiled-coil

Kinesins are a superfamily of microtubule-based

  • ATP-powered motors, important for multiple, essential cellular functions.

How microtubule binding stimulates their ATPase and controls force generation is not understood. To address this fundamental question, we visualized microtubule-bound kinesin-1 and kinesin-3 motor domains at multiple steps in their ATPase cycles—including their nucleotide-free states—at ∼7 Å resolution using cryo-electron microscopy.

All our reconstructions have, as their asymmetric unit, a triangle-shaped motor domain bound to an αβ-tubulin dimer within the MT lattice (Figure 1). The structural comparisons below are made with respect to the MT surface, which, at the resolution of our structures (∼7 Å, Table 1), is the same (CCC > 0.98 for all). As is well established across the superfamily, the major and largely invariant point of contact between kinesin motor domains and the MT is helix-α4, which lies at the tubulin intradimer interface (Figure 1C, Kikkawa et al., 2001).

However, multiple conformational changes are seen throughout the rest of each domain in response to bound nucleotide (Figure 1D). Below, we describe the conformational changes in functionally important regions of each motor domain starting with the nucleotide-binding site, from which all other conformational changes emanate.

The nucleotide-binding site (Figure 2) has three major elements: (1) the P-loop (brown) is visible in all our reconstructions;

(2) loop9 (yellow, contains switch I) undergoes major conformational changes through the ATPase cycle; and

(3) loop11 (red, contains switch II) that connects strand-β7 to helix-α4,

the conformation and flexibility of which is determined by MT binding and motor nucleotide state.

Movement and extension of helix-α6 controls neck linker docking

the N-terminus of helix-α6 is closely associated with elements of the nucleotide binding site suggesting that its conformation alters in response to different nucleotide states. In addition, because the orientation of helix-α6 with respect to helix-α4 controls neck linker docking and because helix-α4 is held against the MT during the ATPase cycle,

  • conformational changes in helix-α6 control movement of the neck linker.

Mechanical amplification and force generation involves conformational changes across the motor domain

A key conformational change in the motor domain following Mg-ATP binding is peeling of the central β-sheet from the C-terminus of helix-α4 increasing their separation (Figure 3—figure supplement 2); this is required to accommodate rotation of helix-α6 and consequent neck linker docking (Figure 3B–E).

Peeling of the central β-sheet has previously been proposed to arise from tilting of the entire motor domain relative to static MT contacts, pivoting around helix-α4 (the so-called ‘seesaw’ model; Sindelar, 2011). Specifically, this model predicts that the major difference in the motor before and after Mg-ATP binding would be the orientation of the motor domain with respect to helix-α4.

Kinesin mechanochemistry and the extent of mechanistic conservation within the motor superfamily are open questions, critical to explain how MT binding, and ATP binding and hydrolysis drive motor activity. Our structural characterisation of two transport motors now allows us to propose a model that describes the roles of mechanochemical elements that together drive conserved MT-based motor function.

Model of conserved MT-bound kinesin mechanochemistry. Loop11/N-terminus of helix-α4 is flexible in ADP-bound kinesin in solution, the neck linker is also flexible while loop9 chelates ADP. MT binding is sensed by loop11/helix-α4 N-terminus, biasing them towards more ordered conformations.

We propose that this favours crosstalk between loop11 and loop9, stimulating ADP release. In the NN conformation, both loop11 and loop9 are well ordered and primed to favour ATP binding, while helix-α6—which is required for mechanical amplification–is closely associated with the MT on the other side of the motor domain. ATP binding draws loop11 and loop9 closer together; causing

(1) tilting of most of the motor domain not contacting the MT towards the nucleotide-binding site,

(2) rotation, translation, and extension of helix-α6 which we propose contributes to force generation, and

(3) allows neck linker docking and biases movement of the 2nd head towards the MT plus end.

In both motors, microtubule binding promotes

  • ordered conformations of conserved loops that
  • stimulate ADP release,
  • enhance microtubule affinity and
  • prime the catalytic site for ATP binding.

ATP binding causes only small shifts of these nucleotide-coordinating loops but induces

  • large conformational changes elsewhere that
  • allow force generation and
  • neck linker docking towards the microtubule plus end.

Family-specific differences across the kinesin–microtubule interface account for the

  • distinctive properties of each motor.

Our data thus provide evidence for a

conserved ATP-driven

  • mechanism for kinesins and
  • reveal the critical mechanistic contribution of the microtubule interface.

Phosphorylation at endothelial cell–cell junctions: Implications for VE-cadherin function

I Timmerman, PL Hordijk, JD van Buul

Cell Health and Cytoskeleton 2010; 2: 23–31
Endothelial cell–cell junctions are strictly regulated in order to

  • control the barrier function of endothelium.

Vascular endothelial (VE)-cadherin is one of the proteins that is crucial in this process. It has been reported that

  • phosphorylation events control the function of VE-cadherin.

This review summarizes the role of VE-cadherin phosphorylation in the regulation of endothelial cell–cell junctions and highlights how this affects vascular permeability and leukocyte extravasation.

The vascular endothelium is the inner lining of blood vessels and

  • forms a physical barrier between the vessel lumen and surrounding tissue;
  • controlling the extravasation of fluids,
  • plasma proteins and leukocytes.

Changes in the permeability of the endothelium are tightly regulated. Under basal physiological conditions, there is a continuous transfer of substances across the capillary beds. In addition the endothelium can mediate inducible,

  • transient hyperpermeability
  • in response to stimulation with inflammatory mediators,
  • which takes place primarily in postcapillary venules.

However, when severe, inflammation may result in dysfunction of the endothelial barrier in various parts of the vascular tree, including large veins, arterioles and capillaries. Dysregulated permeability is observed in various pathological conditions, such as tumor-induced angiogenesis, cerebrovascular accident and atherosclerosis.

Two fundamentally different pathways regulate endothelial permeability,

  • the transcellular and paracellular pathways.

Solutes and cells can pass through the body of endothelial cells via the transcellular pathway, which includes

  • vesicular transport systems, fenestrae, and biochemical transporters.

The paracellular route is controlled by

  • the coordinated opening and closing of endothelial junctions and
  • thereby regulates traffic across the intercellular spaces between endothelial cells.

Endothelial cells are connected by

  • tight, gap and
  • adherens junctions,

of which the latter, and particularly the adherens junction component,

  • vascular endothelial (VE)-cadherin,
  • are of central importance for the initiation and stabilization of cell–cell contacts.

Although multiple adhesion molecules are localized at endothelial junctions, blocking the adhesive function of VE-cadherin using antibodies is sufficient to disrupt endothelial junctions and to increase endothelial monolayer permeability both in vitro and in vivo. Like other cadherins, VE-cadherin mediates adhesion via homophilic, calcium-dependent interactions.

This cell–cell adhesion

  • is strengthened by binding of cytoplasmic proteins, the catenins,
  • to the C-terminus of VE-cadherin.

VE-cadherin can directly bind β-catenin and plakoglobin, which

  • both associate with the actin binding protein α-catenin.

Initially, α-catenin was thought to directly anchor cadherins to the actin cytoskeleton, but recently it became clear that

  • α-catenin cannot bind to both β-catenin and actin simultaneously.

Data using purified proteins show that

  • monomeric α-catenin binds strongly to cadherin-bound β-catenin;
  • in contrast to the dimer which has a higher affinity for actin filaments,
  • indicating that α-catenin might function as a molecular switch regulating cadherin-mediated cell–cell adhesion and actin assembly.

Thus, interactions between the cadherin complex and the actin cytoskeleton are more complex than previously thought. Recently, Takeichi and colleagues reported that

  • the actin binding protein EPLIN (epithelial protein lost in neoplasm)
  • can associate with α-catenin and thereby
  • link the E-cadherin–catenin complex to the actin cytoskeleton.

Although this study was performed in epithelial cells,

  • an EPLIN-like molecule might serve as
  • a bridge between the cadherin–catenin complex and
  • the actin cytoskeleton in endothelial cells.

Next to β-catenin and plakoglobin, p120-catenin also binds directly to the intracellular tail of VE-cadherin.

Numerous lines of evidence indicate that

  • p120-catenin promotes VE-cadherin surface expression and stability at the plasma membrane.

Different models are proposed that describe how p120-catenin regulates cadherin membrane dynamics, including the hypothesis

  • that p120-catenin functions as a ‘cap’ that prevents the interaction of VE-cadherin
  • with the endocytic membrane trafficking machinery.

In addition, p120-catenin might regulate VE-cadherin internalization through interactions with small GTPases. Cytoplasmic p120-catenin, which is not bound to VE-cadherin, has been shown to

  • decrease RhoA activity,
  • elevate active Rac1 and Cdc42, and thereby is thought
  • to regulate actin cytoskeleton organization and membrane trafficking.

The intact cadherin-catenin complex is required for proper functioning of the adherens junction. Mutant forms of VE-cadherin which

  • lack either the β-catenin, plakoglobin or p120 binding regions reduce the strength of cell–cell adhesion.

Moreover, our own results showed that

  • interfering with the interaction between α-catenin and β-catenin,
  • using a cell-permeable peptide which encodes the binding site in α-catenin for β-catenin,
  • resulted in an increased permeability of the endothelial monolayer.

Several mechanisms may be involved in the regulation of the organization and function of the cadherin–catenin complex, including endocytosis of the complex, VE-cadherin cleavage and actin cytoskeleton reorganization. The remainder of this review primarily focuses on the

  • role of tyrosine phosphorylation in the control of VE-cadherin-mediated cell–cell adhesion.

Regulation of the adhesive function of VE-cadherin by tyrosine phosphorylation

It is a widely accepted concept that tyrosine phosphorylation of components of the VE–cadherin-catenin complex

  • Correlates with the weakening of cell–cell adhesion.

One of the first reports that supported this idea showed that the level of phosphorylation of VE-cadherin was

  • high in loosely confluent endothelial cells, but
  • low in tightly confluent monolayers,

when intercellular junctions are stabilized.

In addition, several conditions that induce tyrosine phosphorylation

of adherens junction components, like

  • v-Src transformation
  • and inhibition of phosphatase activity by pervanadate,

have been shown to shift cell–cell adhesion from a strong to a weak state. More physiologically relevant;

permeability-increasing agents such as

  • histamine,
  • tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α),
  • thrombin,
  • platelet-activating factor (PAF) and
  • vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)

increase tyrosine phosphorylation of various components of the cadherin–catenin complex.

A general idea has emerged that

  • tyrosine phosphorylation of the VE-cadherin complex
  • leads to the uncoupling of VE-cadherin from the actin cytoskeleton
  • through dissociation of catenins from the cadherin.

However, tyrosine phosphorylation of VE-cadherin is required for efficient transmigration of leukocytes.

This suggests that VE-cadherin-mediated cell–cell contacts

  1. are not just pushed open by the migrating leukocytes, but play
  2. a more active role in the transmigration process.

A schematic overview of leukocyte adhesion-induced signals leading to VE-cadherin phosphorylation

Regulation of the integrity of endothelial cell–cell contacts by phosphorylation of VE-cadherin

Regulation of the integrity of endothelial cell–cell contacts by phosphorylation of VE-cadherin

Regulation of the integrity of endothelial cell–cell contacts by phosphorylation of VE-cadherin.

Notes: A) Permeability-inducing agents such as thrombin, histamine and VEGF, induce tyrosine phosphorylation (pY) of VE-cadherin and the associated catenins. Although the specific consequences of catenin tyrosine phosphorylation in endothelial cells are still unknown, VE-cadherin tyrosine phosphorylation results in opening of the cell–cell junctions (indicated by arrows) and enhanced vascular permeability. How tyrosine phosphorylation affects VE-cadherin adhesiveness is not yet well understood; disrupted binding of catenins, which link the cadherin to the actin cytoskeleton, may be involved. VEGF induces phosphorylation of VE-cadherin at specific residues, Y658 and Y731, which have been reported to regulate p120-catenin and β-catenin binding, respectively. Moreover, VEGF stimulation results in serine phosphorylation (pSer) of VE-cadherin, specifically at residue S665, which leads to its endocytosis. B) Adhesion of leukocytes to endothelial cells via ICAM-1 increases endothelial permeability by inducing phosphorylation of VE-cadherin on tyrosine residues. Essential mediators, such as the kinases Pyk2 and Src, and signaling routes involving reactive oxygen species (ROS) and Rho, have been shown to act downstream of ICAM-1. Different tyrosine residues within the cytoplasmic domain of VE-cadherin are involved in the extravasation of neutrophils and lymphocytes, including Y658 and Y731. (β: β-catenin, α: α-catenin, γ: γ-catenin/plakoglobin).

N-glycosylation status of E-cadherin controls cytoskeletal dynamics through the organization of distinct β-catenin- and γ-catenin-containing AJs

BT Jamal, MN Nita-Lazar, Z Gao, B Amin, J Walker, MA Kukuruzinska
Cell Health and Cytoskeleton 2009; 1: 67–80

N-glycosylation of E-cadherin has been shown to inhibit cell–cell adhesion. Specifically, our recent studies have provided evidence that the reduction of E-cadherin N-glycosylation promoted the recruitment of stabilizing components, vinculin and serine/ threonine protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A), to adherens junctions (AJs) and enhanced the association of AJs with the actin cytoskeleton. Here, we examined the details of how

  • N-glycosylation of E-cadherin affected the molecular organization of AJs and their cytoskeletal interactions.

Using the hypoglycosylated E-cadherin variant, V13, we show that

  • V13/β-catenin complexes preferentially interacted with PP2A and with the microtubule motor protein dynein.

This correlated with dephosphorylation of the microtubule-associated protein tau, suggesting that

  • increased association of PP2A with V13-containing AJs promoted their tethering to microtubules.

On the other hand, V13/γ-catenin complexes associated more with vinculin, suggesting that they

  • mediated the interaction of AJs with the actin cytoskeleton.
  • N-glycosylation driven changes in the molecular organization of AJs were physiologically significant because transfection of V13 into A253 cancer cells, lacking both mature AJs and tight junctions (TJs), promoted the formation of stable AJs and enhanced the function of TJs to a greater extent than wild-type E-cadherin.

These studies provide the first mechanistic insights into how N-glycosylation of E-cadherin drives changes in AJ composition through

  • the assembly of distinct β-catenin- and γ-catenin-containing scaffolds that impact the interaction with different cytoskeletal components.

Cytoskeletal Basis of Ion Channel Function in Cardiac Muscle

Matteo Vatta, and Georgine Faulkner,

1 Departments of Pediatrics (Cardiology), Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX 2 Department of Reproductive and Developmental Sciences, University of Trieste, Trieste, Italy
3 Muscular Molecular Biology Unit, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Padriciano, Trieste, Italy

Future Cardiol. 2006 July 1; 2(4): 467–476.

The heart is a force-generating organ that responds to

  • self-generated electrical stimuli from specialized cardiomyocytes.

This function is modulated

  • by sympathetic and parasympathetic activity.

In order to contract and accommodate the repetitive morphological changes induced by the cardiac cycle, cardiomyocytes

  • depend on their highly evolved and specialized cytoskeletal apparatus.

Defects in components of the cytoskeleton, in the long term,

  • affect the ability of the cell to compensate at both functional and structural levels.

In addition to the structural remodeling,

  • the myocardium becomes increasingly susceptible to altered electrical activity leading to arrhythmogenesis.

The development of arrhythmias secondary to structural remodeling defects has been noted, although the detailed molecular mechanisms are still elusive. Here I will review

  • the current knowledge of the molecular and functional relationships between the cytoskeleton and ion channels

and, I will discuss the future impact of new data on molecular cardiology research and clinical practice.

Myocardial dysfunction in the end-stage failing heart is very often associated with increasing

  • susceptibility to ventricular tachycardia (VT) and ventricular fibrillation (VF),

both of which are common causes of sudden cardiac death (SCD).

Among the various forms of HF,

myocardial remodeling due to ischemic cardiomyopathy (ICM) or dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)

  • is characterized by alterations in baseline ECG,

which includes the

  • prolongation of the QT interval,
  • as well as QT dispersion,
  • ST-segment elevation, and
  • T-wave abnormalities,

especially during exercise. In particular, subjects with

severe left ventricular chamber dilation such as in DCM can have left bundle branch block (LBBB), while right bundle branch block (RBBB) is more characteristic of right ventricular failure.  LBBB and RBBB have both been repeatedly associated with AV block in heart failure.

The impact of volume overload on structural and electro-cardiographic alterations has been noted in cardiomyopathy patients treated with left ventricular assist device (LVAD) therapy, which puts the heart at mechanical rest. In LVAD-treated subjects,

  • QRS- and both QT- and QTc duration decreased,
  • suggesting that QRS- and QT-duration are significantly influenced by mechanical load and
  • that the shortening of the action potential duration contributes to the improved contractile performance after LVAD support.

Despite the increasing use of LVAD supporting either continuous or pulsatile blood flow in patients with severe HF, the benefit of this treatment in dealing with the risk of arrhythmias is still controversial.

Large epidemiological studies, such as the REMATCH study, demonstrated that the

  • employment of LVAD significantly improved survival rate and the quality of life, in comparison to optimal medical management.

An early postoperative period study after cardiac unloading therapy in 17 HF patients showed that in the first two weeks after LVAD implantation,

  • HF was associated with a relatively high incidence of ventricular arrhythmias associated with QTc interval prolongation.

In addition, a recent retrospective study of 100 adult patients with advanced HF, treated with an axial-flow HeartMate LVAD suggested that

  • the rate of new-onset monomorphic ventricular tachycardia (MVT) was increased in LVAD treated patients compared to patients given only medical treatment,

while no effect was observed on the development of polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (PVT)/ventricular fibrillation (VF).

The sarcomere

The myocardium is exposed to severe and continuous biomechanical stress during each contraction-relaxation cycle. When fiber tension remains uncompensated or simply unbalanced,

  • it may represent a trigger for arrhythmogenesis caused by cytoskeletal stretching,
  • which ultimately leads to altered ion channel localization, and subsequent action potential and conduction alterations.

Cytoskeletal proteins not only provide the backbone of the cellular structure, but they also

  • maintain the shape and flexibility of the different sub-cellular compartments, including the
  1. plasma membrane,
  2. the double lipid layer, which defines the boundaries of the cell and where
  • ion channels are mainly localized.

The interaction between the sarcomere, which is the basic for the passive force during diastole and for the restoring force during systole. Titin connects

  • the Z-line to the M-line of the sarcomeric structure
    (Figure 1).

In addition to the strategic

  • localization and mechanical spring function,
  • titin is a length-dependent sensor during
  • stretch and promotes actin-myosin interaction

Titin is stabilized by the cross-linking protein

  • telethonin (T-Cap), which localizes at the Z-line and is also part of titin sensor machinery (Figure 1).

The complex protein interactions in the sarcomere entwine telethonin to other

  • Z-line components through the family of the telethonin-binding proteins of the Z-disc, FATZ, also known as calsarcin and myozenin.

FATZ binds to

  1. calcineurin,
  2. γ-filamin as well as the
  3. spectrin-like repeats (R3–R4) of α-actinin-2,

the major component of the Z-line and a pivotal

  • F-actin cross-linker (Figure 1).contractile unit of striated muscles, and
  • the sarcolemma,

the plasma membrane surrendering the muscle fibers in skeletal muscle and the muscle cell of the cardiomyocyte,

  • determines the mechanical plasticity of the cell, enabling it to complete and re-initiate each contraction-relaxation cycle.

At the level of the sarcomere,

  • actin (thin) and myosin (thick) filaments generate the contractile force,

while other components such as titin, the largest protein known to date, are responsible for

  • the passive force during diastole and for the restoring force during systole, and (titin).
  • the Z-line to the M-line of the sarcomeric structure
    (Figure 1).

In addition to the strategic

  • localization and mechanical spring function,
  • it acts as a length-dependent sensor during stretch and
  • promotes actin-myosin interaction.

Stabilized by the cross-linking protein telethonin (T-Cap),

  • titin localizes at the Z-line and is
  • part of titin sensor machinery

Another cross-linker of α-actinin-2 in the complex Z-line scaffold is

  • the Z-band alternatively spliced PDZ motif protein (ZASP),
  • which has an important role in maintaining Z-disc stability

in skeletal and cardiac muscle (Figure 1).

ZASP contains a PDZ motif at its N-terminus,

  • which interacts with C-terminus of α-actinin-2,
  • and a conserved sequence called the ZASP like motif (ZM)
  • found in the alternatively spliced exons 4 and 6.

It has also been reported

  • to bind to the FATZ (calsarcin) family of Z-disc proteins (Figure 1).

The complex protein interactions in the sarcomere entwine telethonin to other Z-line components through the family of the telethonin-binding proteins of the

  1. Z-disc,
  2. FATZ, also known as calsarcin and
  3. myozenin

FATZ binds to calcineurin,

  1. γ-filamin as well as the
  2. spectrin-like repeats (R3–R4) of α-actinin-2, the major component of the Z-line and a pivotal F-actin cross-linker (Figure 1).
sarcomere structure

sarcomere structure

Figure 1. Sarcomere structure

The diagram illustrates the sarcomeric structure. The Z-line determines the boundaries of the contractile unit, while Titin connects the Z-line to the M-line and acts as a functional spring during contraction/relaxation cycles.

Sarcomeric Proteins and Ion Channels

In addition to systolic dysfunction characteristic of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and diastolic dysfunction featuring hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), the clinical phenotype of patients with severe cardiomyopathy is very often associated with a high incidence of cardiac arrhythmias. Therefore, besides fiber stretch associated with mechanical and hemodynamic impairment, cytoskeletal alterations due to primary genetic defects or indirectly to alterations in response to cellular injury can potentially

  1. affect ion channel anchoring, and trafficking, as well as
  2. functional regulation by second messenger pathways,
  3. causing an imbalance in cardiac ionic homeostasis that will trigger arrhythmogenesis.

Intense investigation of

  • the sarcomeric actin network,
  • the Z-line structure, and
  • chaperone molecules docking in the plasma membrane,

has shed new light on the molecular basis of

  • cytoskeletal interactions in regulating ion channels.

In 1991, Cantiello et al., demonstrated that

  • although the epithelial sodium channel and F-actin are in close proximity,
  • they do not co-localize.

Actin disruption using cytochalasin D, an agent that interferes with actin polymerization, increased Na+ channel activity in 90% of excised patches tested within 2 min, which indicated that

  • the integrity of the filamentous actin (F-actin) network was essential
  • for the maintenance of normal Na+ channel function.

Later, the group of Dr. Jonathan Makielski demonstrated that

  • actin disruption induced a dramatic reduction in Na+ peak current and
  • slowed current decay without affecting steady-state voltage-dependent availability or recovery from inactivation.

These data were the first to support a role for the cytoskeleton in cardiac arrhythmias.

F-actin is intertwined in a multi-protein complex that includes

  • the composite Z-line structure.

Further, there is a direct binding between

  • the major protein of the Z-line, α-actinin-2 and
  • the voltage-gated K+ channel 1.5 (Kv1.5), (Figure 2).

The latter is expressed in human cardiomyocytes and localizes to

  • the intercalated disk of the cardiomyocyte
  • in association with connexin and N-cadherin.

Maruoka et al. treated HEK293 cells stably expressing Kv1.5 with cytochalasin D, which led to

  • a massive increase in ionic and gating IK+ currents.

This was prevented by pre-incubation with phalloidin, an F-actin stabilizing agent. In addition, the Z-line protein telethonin binds to the cytoplasmic domain of minK, the beta subunit of the potassium channel KCNQ1 (Figure 2).

Molecular interactions between the cytoskeleton and ion channels

Molecular interactions between the cytoskeleton and ion channels

Figure 2. Molecular interactions between the cytoskeleton and ion channels

The figure illustrates the interactions between the ion channels on the sarcolemma, and the sarcomere in cardiac myocytes. Note that the Z-line is connected to the cardiac T-tubules. The diagram illustrates the complex protein-protein interactions that occur between structural components of the cytoskeleton and ion channels. The cytoskeleton is involved in regulating the metabolism of ion channels, modifying their expression, localization, and electrical properties. The cardiac sodium channel Nav1.5 associates with the DGC, while potassium channels such as Kv1.5, associate with the Z-line.

Ion Channel Subunits and Trafficking

Correct localization is essential for ion channel function and this is dependent upon the ability of auxiliary proteins to

  • shuttle ion channels from the cytoplasm to their final destination such as
  • the plasma membrane or other sub-cellular compartments.

In this regard, Kvβ-subunits are

  • cytoplasmic components known to assemble with the α-subunits of voltage-dependent K+ (Kv) channels
  • at their N-terminus to form stable Kvα/β hetero-oligomeric channels.

When Kvβ is co-expressed with Kv1.4 or Kv1.5, it enhances Kv1.x channel trafficking to the cell membrane without changing the overall protein channel content. The regulatory Kvβ subunits, which are also expressed in cardiomyocytes, directly decrease K+ current by

  • accelerating Kv1.x channel inactivation.

Therefore, altered expression or mutations in Kvβ subunits could cause abnormal ion channel transport to the cell surface, thereby increasing the risk of cardiac arrhythmias.

Ion Channel Protein Motifs and Trafficking

Cell membrane trafficking in the Kv1.x family may occur in a Kvβ subunit-independent manner through specific motifs in their C-terminus. Mutagenesis of the final asparagine (N) in the Kv1.2 motif restores the leucine (L) of the Kv1.4 motif

  • re-establishing high expression levels at the plasma membrane in a Kvβ-independent manner

Cytoskeletal Proteins and Ion Channel Trafficking

Until recently, primary arrhythmias such as LQTS have been almost exclusively regarded as ion channelopathies. Other mutations have been identified with regard to channelopathies. However, the conviction that primary mutations in ion channels were solely responsible for

  • the electrical defects associated with arrhythmias

has been shaken by the identification of mutations in the

  • ANK2 gene encoding the cytoskeletal protein ankyrin-B

that is associated with LQTS in animal models and humans.

Ankyrin-B acts as a chaperone protein, which shuttles the cardiac sodium channel from the cytoplasm to the membrane. Immunohistochemical analysis has localized ankyrin-B to the Zlines/T-tubules on the plasma membrane in the myocardium. Mutations in ankyrin-B associated with LQTS

  • alter sodium channel trafficking due to loss of ankyrin-B localization at the Z-line/transverse (T)-tubules.

Reduced levels of ankyrin-B at cardiac Z-lines/T-tubules were associated with the deficiency of ankyrin-B-associated proteins such as Na/K-ATPase, Na/Ca exchanger (NCX) and inositol-1, 4, 5-trisphosphate receptors (InsP3R).

Dystrophin component of the Dystrophin Glycoprotien Complex (DGC)

Synchronized contraction is essential for cardiomyocytes, which are connected to each other via the extracellular matrix (ECM) through the DGC. The N-terminus domain of dystrophin

  • binds F-actin, and connects it to the sarcomere, while
  • the cysteine-rich (CR) C-terminus domain ensures its connection to the sarcolemma (Figure 2).

The central portion of dystrophin, the rod domain, is composed of

  • rigid spectrin-like repeats and four hinge portions (H1–H4) that determine the flexibility of the protein.

Dystrophin possesses another F-actin binding domain in the Rod domain region, between the basic repeats 11- 17 (DysN-R17).

Dystrophin, originally identified as the gene responsible for Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophies (DMD/BMD), and later for the X-linked form of dilated cardiomyopathy (XLCM), exerts a major function in physical force transmission in striated muscle. In addition to its structural significance, dystrophin and other DGC proteins such as syntrophins are required for the

  • correct localization,
  • clustering and
  • regulation of ion channel function.

Syntrophins have been implicated in ion channel regulation.  Syntrophins contain two pleckstrin homology (PH) domains, a PDZ domain, and a syntrophin-unique (SU) C-terminal region. The interaction between syntrophins and dystrophin occurs at the PH domain distal to the syntrophin N-terminus and through the highly conserved SU domain. Conversely, the PH domain proximal to the N-terminal portion of the protein and the PDZ domain interact with other membrane components such as

  1. phosphatidyl inositol-4, 5-bisphosphate,
  2. neuronal NOS (nNOS),
  3. aquaporin-4,
  4. stress-activated protein kinase-3, and
  5. 5,

thereby linking all these molecules to the dystrophin complex (Figure 2).

Among the five known isoforms of syntrophin, the 59 KDa α1-syntrophin isoform is the most highly represented in human heart, whereas in skeletal muscle it is only present on the

  • sarcolemma of fast type II fibers.

In addition, the skeletal muscle γ2-syntrophin was found at high levels only at the

  • postsynaptic membrane of the neuromuscular junctions.

In addition to syntrophin, other scaffolding proteins such as caveolin-3 (CAV3), which is present in the caveolae, flask-shaped plasma membrane microdomains, are involved

  • in signal transduction and vesicle trafficking in myocytes,
  • modulating cardiac remodeling during heart failure.

CAV3 and α1-syntrophin, localizes at the T-tubule and are part of the DGC. In addition, α1-syntrophin binds Nav1.5, while

  • caveolin-3 binds the Na+/Ca2+ exchanger, Nav1.5 and the L-type Ca2+ channel as well as nNOS and the DGC (Figure 2).

Although ankyrin-B is the only protein found mutated in patients with primary arrhythmias, other proteins such as caveolin-3 and the syntrophins if mutated may alter ion channel function.


It is important to be aware of the enormous variety of clinical presentations that derive from distinct variants in the same pool of genetic factors. Knowledge of these variants could facilitate tailoring the therapy of choice for each patient. In particular, the recent findings of structural and functional links between

  • the cytoskeleton and ion channels

could expand the therapeutic interventions in

  • arrhythmia management in structurally abnormal myocardium, where aberrant binding
  • between cytoskeletal proteins can directly or indirectly alter ion channel function.

Executive Summary

Arrhythmogenesis and myocardial structure

  • Rhythm alterations can develop as a secondary consequence of myocardial structural abnormalities or as a result of a primary defect in the cardiac electric machinery.
  • Until recently, no molecular mechanism has been able to fully explain the occurrence of arrhythmogenesis in heart failure, however genetic defects that are found almost exclusively in ion channel genes account for the majority of primary arrhythmias such as long QT syndromes and Brugada syndrome. The contractile apparatus is linked to ion channels
  • The sarcomere, which represents the contractile unit of the myocardium not only generates the mechanical force necessary to exert the pump function, but also provides localization and anchorage to ion channels.
  • Alpha-actinin-2, and telethonin, two members of the Z-line scaffolding protein complex in the striated muscle associate with the potassium voltage-gated channel alpha subunit Kv1.5 and the beta subunit KCNE1 respectively.
  • Mutations in KCNE1 have previously been associated with the development of arrhythmias in LQTS subjects.
  • Mutations in both alpha-actinin-2, and telethonin were identified in individuals with cardiomyopathy. The primary defect is structural leading to ventricular dysfunction, but the secondary consequence is arrhythmia.

Ion channel trafficking and sub-cellular compartments

  • Ion channel trafficking from the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) to the Golgi complex is an important check-point for regulating the functional channel molecules on the plasma membrane. Several molecules acting as chaperones bind to and shuttle the channel proteins to their final localization on the cell surface
  • Ion channel subunits such as Kvβ enhance Kv1.x ion channel presentation on the sarcolemma. The α subunits of the Kv1.x potassium channels can be shuttled in a Kvβ-independent manner through specific sequence motif at Kv1.x protein level.
  • In addition, cytoskeletal proteins such as ankyrin-G bind Nav1.5 and are involved in the sodium channel trafficking. Another member of the ankyrin family, ankyrin-B was found mutated in patients with LQTS but the pathological mechanism of ankyrin-B mutations is still obscure, although the sodium current intensity is dramatically reduced.

The sarcolemma and ion channels

  • The sarcolemma contains a wide range of ion channels, which are responsible for the electrical propagating force in the myocardium.
  • The DGC is a protein complex, which forms a scaffold for cytoskeletal components and ion channels.
  • Dystrophin is the major component of the DGC and mutations in dystrophin and DGC cause muscular dystrophies and X-linked cardiomyopathies (XLCM) in humans. Cardiomyopathies are associated with arrhythmias
  • Caveolin-3 and syntrophins associate with Nav1.5, and are part of the DGC. Syntrophins can directly modulate Nav1.5 channel function.


  • The role of the cytoskeleton in ion channel function has been hypothesized in the past, but only recently the mechanism underlying the development of arrhythmias in structurally impaired myocardium has become clearer.
  • The recently acknowledged role of the cytoskeleton in ion channel function suggests that genes encoding cytoskeletal proteins should be regarded as potential candidates for variants involved in the susceptibility to arrhythmias, as well as the primary target of genetic mutations in patients with arrhythmogenic syndromes such as LQTS and Brugada syndrome.
  • Studies of genotype-phenotype correlation and and patient risk stratification for mutations in cytoskeletal proteins will help to tailor the therapy and management of patients with arrhythmias.

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Cytoskeleton and Cell Membrane Physiology


Curator: Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP




early evolution of lipid membranes and the three domains of life

early evolution of lipid membranes and the three domains of life

Definition and Function

The cytoskeleton is a series of intercellular proteins that help a cell with

  1. shape,
  2. support, and
  3. movement.

Cytoskeleton has three main structural components:

  1. microfilaments,
  2. intermediate filaments, and
  3. movement

The cytoskeleton mediates movement by

  • helping the cell move in its environment and
  • mediating the movement of the cell’s components.

Thereby it provides an important structural framework for the cell –

  • the framework for the movement of organelles, contiguous with the cell membrane, around the cytoplasm. By the activity of
  • the network of protein microfilaments, intermediate filaments, and microtubules.

The structural framework supports cell function as follows:

Cell shape. For cells without cell walls, the cytoskeleton determines the shape of the cell. This is one of the functions of the intermediate filaments.

Cell movement. The dynamic collection of microfilaments and microtubles can be continually in the process of assembly and disassembly, resulting in forces that move the cell. There can also be sliding motions of these structures. Audesirk and Audesirk give examples of white blood cells “crawling” and the migration and shape changes of cells during the development of multicellular organisms.

Organelle movement. Microtubules and microfilaments can help move organelles from place to place in the cell. In endocytosis a vesicle formed engulfs a particle abutting the cell. Microfilaments then attach to the vesicle and pull it into the cell. Much of the complex synthesis and distribution function of the endoplasmic reticulum and the Golgi complex makes use of transport vescicles,  associated with the cytoskeleton.

Cell division. During cell division, microtubules accomplish the movement of the chromosones to the daughter nucleus. Also, a ring of microfilaments helps divide two developing cells by constricting the central region between the cells (fission).

Hickman, et al. Ch 4 Hickman, Cleveland P., Roberts, Larry S., and Larson, Allan, Integrated Principles of Zoology, 9th. Ed., Wm C. Brown, 1995.
Audesirk & Audesirk Ch 6 Audesirk, Teresa and Audesirk, Gerald, Biology, Life on Earth, 5th Ed., Prentice-Hall, 1999.

Intermediate filaments are 8-12 nanometers in diameter and are twisted together in a cord shape. They are composed of keratin and keratin-like proteins.  These filaments are tough and resist tension.

Microtubules are composed of alpha and beta tubulin that form long, hollow cylinders.  These are fairly strong proteins and are the largest component of cytoskeleton at 25 nanometers. Tubular monomers can be lengthened or shortened from the positive end.

Microtubules have three different functions.

They make up the cell’s

  1. centriole
  2. the flagella and cilia of a cell, and
  3. they serve as “tracks” for transport vesicles to move along.

Key Points 


  1. help the cell resist compression,
  2. provide a track along which vesicles can move throughout the cell, and
  3. are the components of cilia and flagella.

Cilia and flagella are hair-like structures that

  1. assist with locomotion in some cells, as well as
  2. line various structures to trap particles.

The structures of cilia and flagella are a “9+2 array,” meaning that

  • a ring of nine microtubules is surrounded by two more microtubules.

Microtubules attach to replicated chromosomes

  • during cell division and
  • pull them apart to opposite ends of the pole,
  • allowing the cell to divide with a complete set of chromosomes in each daughter cell.

Microtubules are the largest element of the cytoskeleton.

The walls of the microtubule are made of

  • polymerized dimers of α-tubulin and β-tubulin, two globular proteins.

With a diameter of about 25 nm, microtubules are the widest components of the cytoskeleton.

They help the cell

  • resist compression,
  • provide a track along which vesicles move through the cell, and
  • pull replicated chromosomes to opposite ends of a dividing cell.

Like microfilaments, microtubules can dissolve and reform quickly.

Microtubules are also the structural elements of flagella, cilia, and centrioles (the latter are the two perpendicular bodies of the centrosome). In animal cells, the centrosome is the microtubule-organizing center. In eukaryotic cells, flagella and cilia are quite different structurally from their counterparts in prokaryotes.

Intermediate Filaments

Intermediate filaments (IFs) are cytoskeletal components found in animal cells. They are composed of a family of related proteins sharing common structural and sequence features.

epithelial cells

epithelial cells

flagella and cilia share a common structural arrangement of microtubules called a “9 + 2 array.” This is an appropriate name because a single flagellum or cilium is made of a ring of nine microtubule doublets surrounding a single microtubule doublet in the center.

9+2 array

9+2 array

The `Spectraplakins’: cytoskeletal giants with characteristics of both spectrin and plakin families

Katja Röper, Stephen L. Gregory and Nicholas H. Brown
J Cell Sci Nov 15, 2002; 115: 4215-4225​jcs.00157





The sequential endosymbiotic origins of eukaryotes: Compared to bacteria and archaea, the typical eukaryotic cell is much more structurally complex.

While the prokaryotes have a rigid cell wall, the ancestral eukaryote appears to have been wall-less (the walls of plant cells appear to represent a adaptation, and are not homologous to prokaryotic cell walls).

In addition to a nucleus (wherein the cell’s DNA is located, and which we will return to in the next section), there are cytoskeletal structures, including distinctive flagella (quite different from those found in prokaryotes), an active (motile) plasma membrane, capable of engulfing other cells, and multiple internal membrane systems. (A more complete description of cell structure is beyond this version of Biofundamentals).

In aerobic bacteria and cyanobacteria, the electron transport chains associated with ATP synthesis (through either photosynthesis or aerobic respiration) located within the plasma membrane (and in the case of cyanobacteria, internal membrane systems as well).

The same processes (aerobic respiration and photosynthesis) occur within eukaryotic cells. Animals have aerobic respiration, while plants have both).

However, these processes do not occur on the plasma membrane, but rather within distinct cytoplasmic organelles: mitochondria for aerobic respiration and chloroplasts for photosynthesis. All eukaryotic cells have mitochondria, plants (which are eukaryotic) have both mitochondria and chloroplasts.

An intriguing evolutionary question was, are these processes related, that is, are the processes of aerobic respiration and photosynthesis found in eukaryotes homologous to the processes found in bacteria and cyanobacteria, or did they originate independently.

The path to understanding that homologous nature of these processes began with studies of cell structure.

spectrin protein superfamily.large

spectrin protein superfamily.large

The role of secreted factors and extracellular matrix

The role of secreted factors and extracellular matrix

Focal Adhesions: Transmembrane Junctions Between the Extracellular Matrix and the Cytoskeleton

K Burridge, K Fath, T Kelly, G Nuckolls, and C Turner
Ann Rev Cell Biol Nov 1988; 4: 487-525

the extracellular matrix (ECM) is a collection of extracellular molecules secreted by cells that

  • provides structural and biochemical support to the surrounding cells.[1]

Because multicellularity evolved independently in different multicellular lineages, the composition of ECM varies between multicellular structures; however,

  • cell adhesion,
  • cell-to-cell communication and
  • differentiation

are common functions of the ECM.[2]

The animal extracellular matrix includes

  • the interstitial matrix and
  • the basement membrane.[3]

Interstitial matrix is present between various animal cells (i.e., in the intercellular spaces).

Gels of polysaccharides and fibrous proteins

  • fill the interstitial space and act as
  • a compression buffer against the stress placed on the ECM.[4]

Basement membranes are sheet-like depositions of ECM on which various epithelial cells rest.

The Extracellular Matrix (ECM)

Mechanical support to tissues

Organization of cells into tissues

  1. Activation of signaling pathways (cell growth, proliferation; development); examples:
  2. TGF-β, integrins
  3. specialized roles (tendon, bone; cartilage; cell movement during development; basal lamina in epithelia)


  1. proteoglycans
  2. collagen fibers (mechanical strength)
  3. multiadhesive matrix proteins (linking cell surface receptors to the (ECM)

Integrin connects the extracellular matrix with the actin cytoskeleton inside the cell

Fibronectin Integrin

Fibronectin Integrin

Continuous membrane-cytoskeleton adhesion requires continuous accommodation to lipid and cytoskeleton dynamics.

Sheetz MP, Sable JE, Döbereiner HG.
Annu Rev Biophys Struct Biomol. 2006;35:417-34.

The plasma membrane of most animal cells conforms to the cytoskeleton and only occasionally separates to form blebs. Previous studies indicated that

  • many weak interactions between cytoskeleton and the lipid bilayer
  • kept the surfaces together to counteract the normal outward pressure of cytoplasm.

Either the loss of adhesion strength or the formation of gaps in the cytoskeleton enables the pressure to form blebs. Membrane-associated cytoskeleton proteins, such as spectrin and filamin, can

  • control the movement and aggregation of membrane proteins and lipids,
    e.g., phosphoinositol phospholipids (PIPs), as well as blebbing.

At the same time, lipids (particularly PIPs) and membrane proteins affect

  • cytoskeleton and signaling dynamics.

We consider here the roles of the major phosphatidylinositol-4,5-diphosphate (PIP2) binding protein, MARCKS, and PIP2 levels in controlling cytoskeleton dynamics. Further understanding of dynamics will provide important clues about how membrane-cytoskeleton adhesion rapidly adjusts to cytoskeleton and membrane dynamics.

Interaction of membrane/lipid rafts with the cytoskeleton: impact on signaling and function: membrane/lipid rafts, mediators of cytoskeletal arrangement and cell signaling.

Head BP, Patel HH, Insel PA   Epub 2013 Jul 27.
Biochim Biophys Acta. 2014 Feb;1838(2):532-45.

The plasma membrane in eukaryotic cells contains microdomains that are

  • enriched in certain glycosphingolipids, gangliosides, and sterols (such as cholesterol) to form membrane/lipid rafts (MLR).

These regions exist as caveolae, morphologically observable flask-like invaginations, or as a less easily detectable planar form. MLR are scaffolds for many molecular entities, including

  • signaling receptors and ion channels that
  • communicate extracellular stimuli to the intracellular milieu.

Much evidence indicates that this organization and/or the clustering of MLR into more active signaling platforms

  • depends upon interactions with and dynamic rearrangement of the cytoskeleton.

Several cytoskeletal components and binding partners, as well as enzymes that regulate the cytoskeleton, localize to MLR and help

  • regulate lateral diffusion of membrane proteins and lipids in response to extracellular events
    (e.g., receptor activation, shear stress, electrical conductance, and nutrient demand).

MLR regulate

  • cellular polarity,
  • adherence to the extracellular matrix,
  • signaling events (including ones that affect growth and migration), and
  • are sites of cellular entry of certain pathogens, toxins and nanoparticles.

The dynamic interaction between MLR and the underlying cytoskeleton thus regulates many facets of the function of eukaryotic cells and their adaptation to changing environments. Here, we review general features of MLR and caveolae and their role in several aspects of cellular function, including

  • polarity of endothelial and epithelial cells,
  • cell migration,
  • mechanotransduction,
  • lymphocyte activation,
  • neuronal growth and signaling, and
  • a variety of disease settings.

This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Reciprocal influences between cell cytoskeleton and membrane channels, receptors and transporters. Guest Editor: Jean Claude Hervé.

Cell control by membrane–cytoskeleton adhesion

Michael P. Sheetz
Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology 2, 392-396 (May 2001) | http://dx.doi.doi:/10.1038/35073095

The rates of mechanochemical processes, such as endocytosis, membrane extension and membrane resealing after cell wounding, are known to be controlled biochemically, through interaction with regulatory proteins. Here, I propose that these rates are also controlled physically, through an apparently continuous adhesion between plasma membrane lipids and cytoskeletal proteins.

Lipid Rafts, Signalling and the Cytoskeleton

Lipid rafts are specialised membrane domains enriched in certain lipids cholesterol and proteins. The existence of lipid rafts was first hypothesised in 1988 (Simons & van Meer, 1988; Simon & Ikonen, 1997), but what we know as “caveolae” were first observed  much earlier (Palade, 1953; Yamada, 1955).  Caveolae are flask shaped invaginations on the cell surface that are a type of membrane raft, these were named “caveolae intracellulare” (Yamada, 1955).  After a long argument (Jacobson & Dietrich, 1999), most now consider that these rafts actually exist, however, there is some confusion surrounding the classification of these rafts. It presently seems that there could be three types; caveolae, glycosphingolipid enriched membranes (GEM), and polyphospho inositol rich rafts. It may also be that there are inside rafts (PIP2 rich and caveolae) and outside rafts (GEM).

The fatty-acid chains of lipids within the rafts tend to be extended and so more tightly packed, creating domains with higher order. It is therefore thought that  rafts exist in a separate ordered phase that floats in a sea of poorly ordered lipids.  Glycosphingolipids, and other lipids with long, straight acyl chains are preferentially incorporated into the rafts.

Caveolae are similar in composition to GEMs that lack caveolae and in fact cells that lack caveolin-1 do not have morphologically identifiable caveolae but instead have extra GEM.  These cells can then be transfected with caveolin-1 cDNA and the caveolae then appear.  This suggests that GEM are merely caveolae without caveolin-1.  Caveolin-1 is a 21kDa integral membrane protein that binds cholesterol (Maruta et al, 1995). In cells lacking caveolin-1, caveolin-2 is synthesised but remains in the Golgi.  Caveolin 1 and 2 colocalise when expressed in the same cells and they may form hetero-dimers (Scherer et al, 1997). Caveolin-3 is expressed in muscle where it forms muscle-type caveolae.  Caveolin-3 is involved in certain types of muscular dystrophy (Galbiati et al, ). A slightly confusing finding is that caveolae are the reported site of integrin signalling ().  It is difficult to imagine integrins being available in the depths of membrane invaginations for binding extra-cellular ligands.

The function of rafts

Many functions have been attributed to rafts, from cholesterol transport, endocytosis and signal transduction.  The later is almost certainly the case. It has been suggested that the primary function of caveolae was in constitutive endocytic trafficking but recent data show that this is not the case, instead caveolae are very stable regions of membranes that are not involved in  endocytosis (Thompsen et al, 2002).

lipid raft

lipid raft

Rafts and the Cytoskeleton

Many actin binding proteins are known to bind to polyphosphoinositides and to be regulated by them (see PI and ABPs), by a series of protein domains such as PH, PX and ENTH (see Domains).  It is consequently scarcely surprising that some ABPs are suggested to link the actin cytoskeleton and PIP2-enriched rafts. One of these is gelsolin, a Ca2+, pH and polyphosphoinositide regulated actin capping and severing protein (see Gelsolin Family), that partitions into rafts isolated biochemically from brain (Fanatsu et al, 2000).

GEMs too are suggested to link to the actin cytoskeleton through ABPs particularly ERM proteins through EBP50, a protein that binds members of the ERM proteins through the ERM C-terminus (Brdickova et al, 2001).


Brdickova, N., Brdicka, T., Andrea, L., Spicka, J., Angelisova, P., Milgram, S. L. & Horejsi, V. (2001) Interaction between two adaptor proteins, PAG and EBP50: a possible link between membrane rafts and actin cytoskeleton.  FEBS letters. 507, 133-136.

Cary, L. A. & Cooper, J. A. (2000) Molecular switches in lipid rafts.  Nature. 404, 945-947.

Czarny, M., Fiucci, G., Lavie, Y., Banno, Y., Nozawa, Y. & Liscovitch, M. (2000) Phospholipase D2: functional interaction with caveolin in low-density membrane microdomains.,  FEBS letters.

Foger, N., Funatsu, N., Kumanogoh, H., Sokawa, Y. & Maekawa, S. (2000) Identification of gelsolin as an actin regulatory component in a Triton insoluble low density fraction (raft) of newborn bovine brain.  Neuroscience Research. 36, 311-317.

Galbiati, F., Engelman, J. A., Volonte, D., Zhang, X. L., Minetti, C., Li, M., Hou jr, H., Kneitz, B., Edelman, W. & Lisanti, M. P. (2001) Caveolin-3 null mice show a loss of caveolae, changes in the microdomain distribution of the dystrophin-glycoprotein complex, and T-tubule abnormalities.  J. Biol.Chem. 276, 21425-21433.

…  (more)

centralpore-small  Gating and Ion Conductivity

centralpore-small Gating and Ion Conductivity

Interaction of epithelial ion channels with the actin-based cytoskeleton.

Mazzochi C, Benos DJ, Smith PR.
Am J Physiol Renal Physiol. 2006 Dec;291(6):F1113-22. Epub 2006 Aug 22

The interaction of ion channels with the actin-based cytoskeleton in epithelial cells

  • not only maintains the polarized expression of ion channels within specific membrane domains,
  • it also functions in the intracellular trafficking and regulation of channel activity.

Initial evidence supporting an interaction between

  • epithelial ion channels and the
  • actin-based cytoskeleton

came from patch-clamp studies of the effects of cytochalasins on channel activity. Cytochalasins were shown to

  • either activate or inactivate epithelial ion channels.

An interaction between

  • the actin-based cytoskeleton and epithelial ion channels

was further supported by the fact that the addition of monomeric or filamentous actin to excised patches had an effect on channel activity comparable to that of cytochalasins. Through the recent application of molecular and proteomic approaches, we now know that

  • the interactions between epithelial ion channels and actin can either be direct or indirect,
  • the latter being mediated through scaffolding or actin-binding proteins
  • that serve as links between the channels and the actin-based cytoskeleton.

This review discusses recent advances in our understanding of the interactions between epithelial ion channels and the actin-based cytoskeleton, and the roles these interactions play in regulating the cell surface expression, activity, and intracellular trafficking of epithelial ion channels.

epithelial ion channels

epithelial ion channels

Actin cytoskeleton regulates ion channel activity in retinal neurons.

Maguire G, Connaughton V, Prat AG, Jackson GR Jr, Cantiello HF.
Neuroreport. 1998 Mar 9;9(4):665-70

The actin cytoskeleton is an important contributor to the integrity of cellular shape and responses in neurons. However, the molecular mechanisms associated with functional interactions between the actin cytoskeleton and neuronal ion channels are largely unknown. Whole-cell and single channel recording techniques were thus applied to identified retinal bipolar neurons of the tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) to assess the role of acute changes in actin-based cytoskeleton dynamics in the regulation of voltage-gated ion channels. Disruption of endogenous actin filaments after brief treatment (20-30 min) with cytochalasin D (CD) activated voltage-gated K+ currents in bipolar cells, which were largely prevented by intracellular perfusion with the actin filament-stabilizer agent, phalloidin. Either CD treatment under cell-attached conditions or direct addition of actin to excised, inside-out patches of bipolar cells activated and/or increased single K+ channels. Thus, acute changes in actin-based cytoskeleton dynamics regulate voltage-gated ion channel activity in bipolar cells.

Cytoskeletal Basis of Ion Channel Function in Cardiac Muscle

Matteo Vatta, Ph.D1,2 and Georgine Faulkner, Ph.D3

The publisher’s final edited version of this article is available at Future Cardiol

The heart is a force-generating organ that responds to self-generated electrical stimuli from specialized cardiomyocytes. This function is modulated by sympathetic and parasympathetic activity.

In order to contract and accommodate the repetitive morphological changes induced by the cardiac cycle,

  • cardiomyocytes depend on their highly evolved and specialized cytoskeletal apparatus.

Defects in components of the cytoskeleton, in the long term, affect

  • the ability of the cell to compensate at
  • both functional and structural levels.

In addition to the structural remodeling, the myocardium becomes

  • increasingly susceptible to altered electrical activity leading to arrhythmogenesis.

The development of arrhythmias secondary to structural remodeling defects has been noted, although the detailed molecular mechanisms are still elusive. Here I will review the current knowledge of the molecular and functional relationships between the cytoskeleton and ion channels and, I will discuss the future impact of new data on molecular cardiology research and clinical practice. 

Stretch-activated ion channel

Stretch-activated or stretch-gated ion channels are

  • ion channels which open their pores in response to
  • mechanical deformation of a neuron’s plasma membrane.

[Also see mechanosensitive ion channels and mechanosensitive channels, with which they may be synonymous]. Opening of the ion channels

  • depolarizes the afferent neuron producing an action potential with sufficient depolarization.[1]

Channels open in response to two different mechanisms: the prokaryotic model and the mammalian hair cell model.[2][3] Stretch-activated ion channels have been shown to detect vibration, pressure, stretch, touch, sounds, tastes, smell, heat, volume, and vision.[4][5][6] Stretch-activated ion channels have been categorized into

three distinct “superfamilies”:

  1. the ENaC/DEG family,
  2. the TRP family, and
  3. the K1 selective family.

These channels are involved with bodily functions such as blood pressure regulation.[7] They are shown to be associated with many cardiovascular diseases.[3] Stretch-activated channels were first observed in chick skeletal muscles by Falguni Guharay and Frederick Sachs in 1983 and the results were published in 1984.[8] Since then stretch-activated channels have been found in cells from bacteria to humans as well as plants.

Mechanosensitivity of cell membranes. Ion channels, lipid matrix and cytoskeleton.

Petrov AG, Usherwood PN.
Eur Biophys J. 1994;23(1):1-19

Physical and biophysical mechanisms of mechano-sensitivity of cell membranes are reviewed. The possible roles of

  • the lipid matrix and of
  • the cytoskeleton in membrane mechanoreception

are discussed. Techniques for generation of static strains and dynamic curvatures of membrane patches are considered. A unified model for

  • stress-activated and stress-inactivated ion channels

under static strains is described. A review of work on

  • stress-sensitive pores in lipid-peptide model membranes

is presented. The possible role of flexoelectricity in mechano-electric transduction, e.g. in auditory receptors is discussed. Studies of

  • flexoelectricity in model lipid membranes, lipid-peptide membranes and natural membranes containing ion channels

are reviewed. Finally, possible applications in molecular electronics of mechanosensors employing some of the recognized principles of mechano-electric transduction in natural membranes are discussed.Marhaba, R. & Zoller, M. (2001) Involvement of CD44 in cytoskeleton rearrangement and raft reorganization in T cells.  J.Cell Sci. 114, 1169-1178.

FIGURE 2 | The transient pore model.

peroxisomal matrix protein

peroxisomal matrix protein

Peroxisomal matrix protein import: the transient pore model

Ralf Erdmann & Wolfgang Schliebs
Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology 6, 738-742 (September 2005)

Peroxisomal matrix protein import: the transient pore model
The transient pore model

The peroxisomal import receptor peroxin-5 (Pex5) recognizes peroxisomal targeting signal-1 (PTS1)-containing cargo proteins in the cytosol. It then moves to the peroxisome where it inserts into the peroxisomal membrane to become an integral part of the protein-import apparatus. Pex14 and/or Pex13, which are associated with Pex17, are proposed to be involved in tethering the receptor to the membrane and in the assembly, stabilization and rearrangement of the translocon. Cargo release into the peroxisomal matrix is thought to be initiated by intraperoxisomal factors — for example, the competitive binding of the intraperoxisomal Pex8, which also has a PTS1. The disassembly and recycling of Pex5 is triggered by a cascade of protein–protein interactions at the peroxisomal membrane that results in the Pex1-, Pex6-driven, ATP-dependent dislocation of Pex5 from the peroxisomal membrane to the cytosol. Pex1 and Pex6 are AAA+ (ATPases associated with a variety of cellular activities) peroxins that are associated with the peroxisome membrane through Pex15 in yeast or its orthologue PEX26 in mammals. Pex4, which is membrane-anchored through Pex22, is a member of the E2 family of ubiquitin-conjugating enzymes, and Pex2, Pex10 and Pex12 contain the RING-finger motif that is a characteristic element of E3 ubiquitin ligases. Mono- or di-ubiquitylation are reversible steps that seem to be required for the efficient recycling of import receptors, whereas polyubiquitylation might signal the proteasome-dependent degradation of receptors when the physiological dislocation of receptors is blocked. Ub, ubiquitin.

Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology 6, 738-742 (September 2005) |


peroxisomal protein pore model

peroxisomal protein pore model

Peroxisomal matrix protein import: the transient pore model

Ralf Erdmann & Wolfgang Schliebs
Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology 6, 738-742 (September 2005)

Peroxisomal matrix protein import: the transient pore model

Peroxin-13 (Pex13), Pex14 and Pex17 are constituents of the docking complex for cycling peroxisomal import receptors. Another protein assembly in the peroxisomal membrane comprises the RING-finger-motif-containing peroxins Pex2, Pex10 and Pex12. This motif is a characteristic element of E3 ubiquitin ligases, and this subcomplex is linked to the docking complex by Pex8, which is peripherally attached to the lumenal side of the peroxisomal membrane. Pex4 is a member of the E2 family of ubiquitin-conjugating enzymes and is anchored to the peroxisomal membrane through the cytosolic domain of Pex22. Pex1 and Pex6 are interacting AAA+ proteins (ATPases associated with a variety of cellular activities), which are attached to the membrane through binding to Pex15 in yeast or to its mammalian counterpart PEX26.

Peroxisomal matrix protein import: the transient pore model

Ralf Erdmann & Wolfgang Schliebs

Peroxisomes import folded, even oligomeric, proteins, which distinguishes the peroxisomal translocation machinery from the well-characterized translocons of other organelles. How proteins are transported across the peroxisomal membrane is unclear. Here, we propose a mechanistic model that conceptually divides the import process into three consecutive steps: the formation of a

  • translocation pore by the import receptor,
  • the ubiquitylation of the import receptors, and
  • pore disassembly/receptor recycling.


Masoud Naderi Maralani

Identification of the phytosphingosine metabolic pathway leading to odd-numbered fatty acids

The long-chain base ​phytosphingosine is a component of sphingolipids and exists in yeast, plants and some mammalian tissues. ​Phytosphingosine is unique in that it possesses an additional hydroxyl group compared with other long-chain bases. However, its metabolism is unknown. Here we show that ​phytosphingosine is metabolized to odd-numbered fatty acids and is incorporated into glycerophospholipids both in yeast and mammalian cells. Disruption of the yeast gene encoding long-chain base 1-phosphate lyase, which catalyzes the committed step in the metabolism of ​phytosphingosine to glycerophospholipids, causes an ~40% reduction in the level of phosphatidylcholines that contain a C15 fatty acid. We also find that ​2-hydroxypalmitic acid is an intermediate of the phytosphingosine metabolic pathway. Furthermore, we show that the yeast ​MPO1 gene, whose product belongs to a large, conserved protein family of unknown function, is involved in ​phytosphingosine metabolism. Our findings provide insights into fatty acid diversity and identify a pathway by which hydroxyl group-containing lipids are metabolized.

About GPCRs

G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) are a class of membrane proteins that allow the transmission of a wide variety of signals over the cell membrane, between different cells and over long distances inside the body. The molecular mechanisms of action of GPCRs were worked in great detail by Brian Kobilka and Robert Lefkowitz for which they were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2012. Read More

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