“It’s a really cool structure,” said Jodi Nunnari, professor and chair of molecular and cellular biology at UC Davis and senior author of the paper, published Sept. 18 in the journal Nature. “This is a really important class of molecules for regulating membrane dynamics.”
The detailed structure reveals exactly how the dynamin protein can form large assemblies that pinch off bubbles, or vesicles, from cell membranes. These vesicles allow a cell to “eat” proteins, liquids or other items from the outside, compartmentalize them and move them around within itself.
Marijn Ford, a postdoctoral scholar in Nunnari’s laboratory, mapped the crystal structure of dynamin-1 in collaboration with Simon Jenni, a research fellow at Harvard University.
Dynamin belongs to a large family of proteins that, in the right conditions, can self-assemble into larger structures and generate force. Those properties of self-assembly and movement can be harnessed in the cell for different functions.
Dynamin-1 itself is involved in making vesicles in nerve cells at the points where nerves form connections, or synapses, with each other. Nerve cells communicate through chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) that are released from and taken up by vesicles. Altering the balance of these messengers can affect mental function. For example, an important class of antidepressant drugs works by affecting the uptake of the neurotransmitter serotonin.
The new crystal structure shows exactly how the individual dynamin proteins can line up to form a helix, and then move by ratcheting alongside each other.
It also shows that part of the protein can interact with lipids in cell membranes. That could allow different types of dynamin protein to interact with subtly different types of membrane, specializing their function.
Understanding these miniature motors also might make it possible one day to engineer cells that can do new and different tasks, Nunnari said.
The work was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
About UC Davis
For more than 100 years, UC Davis has engaged in teaching, research and public service that matter to California and transform the world. Located close to the state capital, UC Davis has more than 32,000 students, more than 2,500 faculty and more than 21,000 staff, an annual research budget that exceeds $678 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and more than 100 undergraduate majors in four colleges — Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Letters and Science. It also houses six professional schools — Education, Law, Management, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.
- Jodi Nunnari, Molecular and Cellular Biology, (530) 754-9774, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Andy Fell, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-4533, email@example.com