Postdoctoral Scholar-Employee, University of California, San Diego
Spontaneous formation and remodeling of synthetic phospholipid membranes
Phospholipids are important natural molecules that can be considered the “bricks” that form the walls of our cells, providing them with structure and protection. Cellular machines called enzymes act as builders who can assemble and modify these building blocks. Just as a homeowner may choose to save money by remodeling an existing home, cells have the ability to modify existing phospholipids instead of making them from scratch. This saves the cell time and energy. Because the cellular components involved in these processes are complex and not entirely understood, we sought to build a tool to recreate phospholipid remodeling in a simplified artificial cell.
To achieve this, we forwent the enzyme builders found in natural cells and instead designed new phospholipid building blocks, which can construct and remodel themselves. This unique strategy allows us to create well-controlled artificial cells, which behave in a similar way to their biological brethren. Having a system like this allows us to reproduce cellular remodeling events and study their effects without the “noise” that is inherent to natural cells. Using this approach, we hope to better understand the changes that occur in cell membranes during specific disease states and with this information, provide insight for the development of more effective drugs to treat these conditions.
We are not only looking forward, however, to the development of new medicines and treatments but also to the past and the rise of complex lifeforms from simple, self-assembling units. A controlled phospholipid remodeling system like this could help to probe standing questions about the emergence of life from simple building blocks. By utilizing this “builderless house” approach, we hope to better understand how life may have arisen in the absence of the enzymatic contractors we know today.
Abstract: Biological membranes consist of fluid bilayers with many lipid and protein components. This fluidity implies a high flexibility that allows the membranes to attain a large variety of different shapes. One important shape parameter is the spontaneous curvature, which describes the asymmetry between the two leaflets of a bilayer and can be changed by adsorption of 'particles' such as ions or proteins from the aqueous phases. Membrane fluidity also implies that the membranes can change their local composition via lateral diffusion and form intramembrane compartments. Two mechanisms for the formation of such compartments can be distinguished: membrane segmentation arising from structured environments and domain formation as a result of phase separation within the membranes. The interplay between these two mechanisms provides a simple and generic explanation for the difficulty to observe phase domains in vivo. Intramembrane domains can form new membrane compartments via budding and tubulation processes. Which of these two processes actually occurs depends on the fluid-elastic properties of the domains, on the adsorption kinetics, and on external constraints arising, e.g., from the osmotic conditions. Vesicles are predicted to unbind from adhesive surfaces via tubulation when the spontaneous curvature of their membranes exceeds a certain threshold value.
Pub.: 05 Feb '14, Pinned: 27 Aug '17
Abstract: Important cellular events such as division require drastic changes in the shape of the membrane. These remodeling processes can be triggered by the binding of specific proteins or by changes in membrane composition and are linked to phospholipid metabolism for which dedicated enzymes, named phospholipases, are responsible. Here wide-field fluorescence microscopy is used to visualize shape changes induced by the action of phospholipase A1 on dye-labeled supported membranes of POPC (1-palmitoyl-2-oleoly-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine). Time-lapse imaging demonstrates that layers either shrink and disappear or fold and collapse into vesicles. These vesicles can undergo further transformations such as budding, tubulation, and pearling within 5 min of formation. Using dye-labeled phospholipases, we can monitor the presence of the enzyme at specific positions on the membrane as the shape transformations occur. Furthermore, incorporating the products of hydrolysis into POPC membranes is shown to induce transformations similar to those observed for enzyme action. The results suggest that phospholipase-mediated hydrolysis plays an important role in membrane transformations by altering the membrane composition, and a model is proposed for membrane curvature based on the presence and shape of hydrolysis products.
Pub.: 04 Apr '14, Pinned: 27 Aug '17
Abstract: α-Synuclein (α-Syn), an intrinsically disordered protein, is associated with Parkinson's disease. Though molecular pathogenic mechanisms are ill-defined, mounting evidence connects its amyloid forming and membrane binding propensities to disease etiology. Contrary to recent data suggesting that membrane remodeling by α-syn involves anionic phospholipids and helical structure, we discovered that the protein deforms vesicles with no net surface charge (phosphatidylcholine, PC) into tubules (average diameter ∼20 nm). No discernible secondary structural changes were detected by circular dichroism spectroscopy upon the addition of vesicles. Notably, membrane remodeling inhibits α-syn amyloid formation affecting both lag and growth phases. Using five single tryptophan variants and time-resolved fluorescence anisotropy measurements, we determined that α-syn influences bilayer structure with surprisingly weak interaction and no site specificity (partition constant, Kp ∼ 300 M(-1)). Vesicle deformation by α-syn under a variety of different lipid/protein conditions is characterized via transmission electron microscopy. As cellular membranes are enriched in PC lipids, these results support possible biological consequences for α-syn induced membrane remodeling related to both function and pathogenesis.
Pub.: 09 Oct '13, Pinned: 27 Aug '17
Abstract: Cardiolipin is a mitochondrial phospholipid with a characteristic acyl chain composition that depends on the function of tafazzin, a phospholipid-lysophospholipid transacylase, although the enzyme itself lacks acyl specificity. We incubated isolated tafazzin with various mixtures of phospholipids and lysophospholipids, characterized the lipid phase by (31)P-NMR and measured newly formed molecular species by MS. Substantial transacylation was observed only in nonbilayer lipid aggregates, and the substrate specificity was highly sensitive to the lipid phase. In particular, tetralinoleoyl-cardiolipin, a prototype molecular species, formed only under conditions that favor the inverted hexagonal phase. In isolated mitochondria, <1% of lipids participated in transacylations, suggesting that the action of tafazzin was limited to privileged lipid domains. We propose that tafazzin reacts with non-bilayer-type lipid domains that occur in curved or hemifused membrane zones and that acyl specificity is driven by the packing properties of these domains.
Pub.: 04 Sep '12, Pinned: 27 Aug '17
Abstract: The α-helical (AH) domain of the hepatitis C virus nonstructural protein NS5A, anchored at the cytoplasmic leaflet of the endoplasmic reticulum, plays a role in viral replication. However, the peptides derived from this domain also exhibit remarkably broad-spectrum virocidal activity, raising questions about their modes of membrane association. Here, using giant lipid vesicles, we show that the AH peptide discriminates between membrane compositions. In cholesterol-containing membranes, peptide binding induces microdomain formation. By contrast, cholesterol-depleted membranes undergo global softening at elevated peptide concentrations. Furthermore, in mixed populations, the presence of ∼100 nm vesicles of viral dimensions suppresses these peptide-induced perturbations in giant unilamellar vesicles, suggesting size-dependent membrane association. These synergistic composition- and size-dependent interactions explain, in part, how the AH domain might on the one hand segregate molecules needed for viral assembly and on the other hand furnish peptides that exhibit broad-spectrum virocidal activity.
Pub.: 09 Jan '16, Pinned: 27 Aug '17
Abstract: Total chemical synthesis of proteins is usually achieved by assembling unprotected peptide segments using site-specific and chemoselective native peptide ligation methods. Access to large proteins often requires the assembly of at least three segments due to the current limits of solid phase synthesis of individual peptide segments. The aim of this tutorial review is to present the basic concepts and challenges underlying the design of sequential peptide ligation strategies using solution or solid phase chemistry. A special emphasis is given to C-to-N and N-to-C three-segment assembly strategies, which potentially give access to proteins composed of up to 150 amino acid residues.
Pub.: 01 Sep '12, Pinned: 27 Aug '17
Abstract: The broad interest of using reversible covalent bonds in chemistry, in particular at its interfaces with biology and materials science, has been recently established through numerous examples in the literature. However, the challenging exchange of peptide fragments using a dynamic covalent peptide bond has not yet been achieved without enzymatic catalysis because of its high thermodynamic stability. Here we show that peptide fragments can be exchanged by a chemoselective and reversible native chemical ligation (NCL) which can take place at N-(methyl)-cysteine residues. This very mild reaction is efficient in aqueous solution, is buffered at physiological pH in the presence of dithiothreitol (DTT), and shows typical half-times of equilibration in the 10 h range.
Pub.: 11 Apr '14, Pinned: 27 Aug '17
Abstract: Membrane rafts are regions of increased lipid acyl chain order that differ in their lipid and protein composition from the surrounding membrane. By providing an additional level of compartmentalization they have been proposed to serve many functions in cellular signal transduction and trafficking. We will review their potential involvement in different forms of membrane traffic, explicitly excluding signalling, and discuss select aspects of the raft hypothesis in its current form.
Pub.: 27 Mar '07, Pinned: 27 Aug '17
Abstract: We use fluorescence microscopy to directly observe liquid phases in giant unilamellar vesicles. We find that a long list of ternary mixtures of high melting temperature (saturated) lipids, low melting temperature (usually unsaturated) lipids, and cholesterol produce liquid domains. For one model mixture in particular, DPPC/DOPC/Chol, we have mapped phase boundaries for the full ternary system. For this mixture we observe two coexisting liquid phases over a wide range of lipid composition and temperature, with one phase rich in the unsaturated lipid and the other rich in the saturated lipid and cholesterol. We find a simple relationship between chain melting temperature and miscibility transition temperature that holds for both phosphatidylcholine and sphingomyelin lipids. We experimentally cross miscibility boundaries both by changing temperature and by the depletion of cholesterol with beta-cyclodextrin. Liquid domains in vesicles exhibit interesting behavior: they collide and coalesce, can finger into stripes, and can bulge out of the vesicle. To date, we have not observed macroscopic separation of liquid phases in only binary lipid mixtures.
Pub.: 29 Oct '03, Pinned: 27 Aug '17
Abstract: Synucleins and apolipoproteins have been implicated in a number of membrane and lipid trafficking events. Lipid interaction for both types of proteins is mediated by 11 amino acid repeats that form amphipathic helices. This similarity suggests that synucleins and apolipoproteins might have comparable effects on lipid membranes, but this has not been shown directly. Here, we find that α-synuclein, β-synuclein, and apolipoprotein A-1 have the conserved functional ability to induce membrane curvature and to convert large vesicles into highly curved membrane tubules and vesicles. The resulting structures are morphologically similar to those generated by amphiphysin, a curvature-inducing protein involved in endocytosis. Unlike amphiphysin, however, synucleins and apolipoproteins do not require any scaffolding domains and curvature induction is mediated by the membrane insertion and wedging of amphipathic helices alone. Moreover, we frequently observed that α-synuclein caused membrane structures that had the appearance of nascent budding vesicles. The ability to function as a minimal machinery for vesicle budding agrees well with recent findings that α-synuclein plays a role in vesicle trafficking and enhances endocytosis. Induction of membrane curvature must be under strict regulation in vivo; however, as we find it can also cause disruption of membrane integrity. Because the degree of membrane curvature induction depends on the concerted action of multiple proteins, controlling the local protein density of tubulating proteins may be important. How cellular safeguarding mechanisms prevent such potentially toxic events and whether they go awry in disease remains to be determined.
Pub.: 10 Aug '10, Pinned: 27 Aug '17
Abstract: Amphiphysin2/BIN1 is a crescent-shaped N-BAR protein playing a key role in forming deeply invaginated tubes in muscle T-tubules. Amphiphysin2/BIN1 structurally stabilizes tubular formations in contrast to other N-BAR proteins involved in dynamic membrane scission processes; however, the molecular mechanism of the stabilizing effect is poorly understood. Using cryo-EM, we investigated the assembly of the amphiphysin/BIN1 on a membrane tube. We found that the N-BAR domains self-assemble on the membrane surface in a highly cooperative manner. Our biochemical assays and 3D reconstructions indicate that the N-terminal amphipathic helix H0 plays an important role in the initiation of the tube assembly and further in organizing BAR-mediated polymerization by locking adjacent N-BAR domains. Mutants that lack H0 or the tip portion, which is also involved in interactions of the neighboring BAR unit, lead to a disruption of the polymer organization, even though tubulation can still be observed. The regulatory region of amphiphysin/BIN1 including an SH3 domain does not have any apparent involvement in the polymer lattice. Our study indicates that the H0 helix and the BAR tip are necessary for efficient and organized self-assembly of amphiphysin/N-BAR.
Pub.: 22 Oct '15, Pinned: 27 Aug '17
Abstract: One of the major goals of synthetic biology is the development of non-natural cellular systems. In this work, we describe a catalytic biomimetic coupling reaction capable of driving the de novo self-assembly of phospholipid membranes. Our system features a coppercatalyzed azide-alkyne cycloaddition that results in the formation of a triazole-containing phospholipid analogue. Concomitant assembly of membranes occurs spontaneously, not requiring preexisting membranes to house catalysts or precursors. The substitution of efficient synthetic reactions for key biochemical processes may offer a general route toward synthetic biological systems.
Pub.: 14 Jan '12, Pinned: 27 Aug '17
Abstract: Phospholipid vesicles are of intense fundamental and practical interest, yet methods for their de novo generation from reactive precursors are limited. A non-enzymatic and chemoselective method to spontaneously generate phospholipid membranes from water-soluble starting materials would be a powerful tool for generating vesicles and studying lipid membranes. Here we describe the use of native chemical ligation (NCL) to rapidly prepare phospholipids spontaneously from thioesters. While NCL is one of the most popular tools for synthesizing proteins and nucleic acids, to our knowledge this is the first example of using NCL to generate phospholipids de novo. The lipids are capable of in situ synthesis and self-assembly into vesicles that can grow to several microns in diameter. The selectivity of the NCL reaction makes in situ membrane formation compatible with biological materials such as proteins. This work expands the application of NCL to the formation of phospholipid membranes.
Pub.: 28 Oct '14, Pinned: 27 Aug '17
Abstract: Cell membranes have a vast repertoire of phospholipid species whose structures can be dynamically modified by enzymatic remodeling of acyl chains and polar head groups. Lipid remodeling plays important roles in membrane biology and dysregulation can lead to disease. Although there have been tremendous advances in creating artificial membranes to model the properties of native membranes, a major obstacle has been developing straightforward methods to mimic lipid membrane remodeling. Stable liposomes are typically kinetically trapped and are not prone to exchanging diacylphospholipids. Here, we show that reversible chemoselective reactions can be harnessed to achieve nonenzymatic spontaneous remodeling of phospholipids in synthetic membranes. Our approach relies on transthioesterification/acyl shift reactions that occur spontaneously and reversibly between tertiary amides and thioesters. We demonstrate exchange and remodeling of both lipid acyl chains and head groups. Using our synthetic model system we demonstrate the ability of spontaneous phospholipid remodeling to trigger changes in vesicle spatial organization, composition, and morphology as well as recruit proteins that can affect vesicle curvature. Membranes capable of chemically exchanging lipid fragments could be used to help further understand the specific roles of lipid structure remodeling in biological membranes.
Pub.: 20 Jul '16, Pinned: 27 Aug '17
Abstract: Cells produce lipid membranes de novo through a complex sequence of enzymatic reactions that are difficult to reconstitute in a minimal system. We set out to take a different approach and mimic the synthesis of phospholipids using abiotic but highly selective bioconjugation reactions. Here I outline several of our group's recent advances in exploring chemoselective reactions for stitching together lipid fragments to form membrane forming lipids from non-membrane forming precursors. Rapid chemical reactions can be harnessed to achieve facile de novo synthesis of lipid membranes, and spontaneous membrane formation can be applied for the reconstitution of membrane proteins, encapsulation and concentration of nanomaterials, and the study of lipid membrane remodeling. I conclude by briefly outlining future challenges and opportunities.
Pub.: 04 May '17, Pinned: 27 Aug '17
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