Class II major histocompatibility complex (MHC) proteins are essential for normal immune system function but also drive many autoimmune responses. They bind peptide antigens in endosomes and present them on the cell surface for recognition by CD4(+) T cells. A small molecule could potentially block an autoimmune response by disrupting MHC-peptide interactions, but this has proven difficult because peptides bind tightly and dissociate slowly from MHC proteins. Using a high-throughput screening assay we discovered a class of noble metal complexes that strip peptides from human class II MHC proteins by an allosteric mechanism. Biochemical experiments indicate the metal-bound MHC protein adopts a 'peptide-empty' conformation that resembles the transition state of peptide loading. Furthermore, these metal inhibitors block the ability of antigen-presenting cells to activate T cells. This previously unknown allosteric mechanism may help resolve how gold(I) drugs affect the progress of rheumatoid arthritis and may provide a basis for developing a new class of anti-autoimmune drugs.
Nucleolar and spindle-associated protein (NuSAP) was recently identified as a microtubule- and chromatin-binding protein in vertebrates that is nuclear during interphase. Small interfering RNA-mediated depletion of NuSAP resulted in aberrant spindle formation, missegregation of chromosomes, and ultimately blocked cell proliferation. We show here that NuSAP is enriched on chromatin-proximal microtubules at meiotic spindles in Xenopus oocytes. When added at higher than physiological levels to Xenopus egg extract, NuSAP induces extensive bundling of spindle microtubules and causes bundled microtubules within spindle-like structures to become longer. In vitro reconstitution experiments reveal two direct effects of NuSAP on microtubules: first, it can efficiently stabilize microtubules against depolymerization, and second, it can cross-link large numbers of microtubules into aster-like structures, thick fibers, and networks. With defined components we show that the activity of NuSAP is differentially regulated by Importin (Imp) alpha, Impbeta, and Imp7. While Impalpha and Imp7 appear to block the microtubule-stabilizing activity of NuSAP, Impbeta specifically suppresses aspects of the cross-linking activity of NuSAP. We propose that to achieve full NuSAP functionality at the spindle, all three importins must be dissociated by RanGTP. Once activated, NuSAP may aid to maintain spindle integrity by stabilizing and cross-linking microtubules around chromatin.
Useful small molecule tools can be discovered in imaging screens that measure phenotype in single cells or small organisms. Recent examples include identification of small molecule inhibitors of processes such as cell migration, cytokinesis, mitotic spindle length determination, melanogenesis, aggresome formation, membrane transport and nuclear export. Imaging screens are currently limited by challenges in the areas of image analysis and target identification. We discuss the use of model organisms such as zebrafish in screens and review different methods of target identification. The emerging field of automated image analysis is also introduced.
BACKGROUND: A recent crystal structure of monastrol in a ternary complex with the kinesin Eg5 motor domain highlights a novel, induced-fit drug binding site at atomic resolution. Mutational obliteration of the monastrol binding site results in a monastrol-resistant, but otherwise catalytically active Eg5 motor domain. However, considering the conformational changes at this site, it is unclear what specific interactions stabilize the interaction between monastrol and the Eg5 motor domain.
RESULTS: To study the molecular complementarity of the monastrol-Eg5 interaction, we used a combination of synthetic chemistry and targeted mutations in Eg5 to measure the contribution of specific contacts to inhibition of Eg5 in vitro and in cultured cells. Structure-activity data on chemical derivatives, sequence analysis of Eg5 homologs from different species, and the effect of mutations near the drug binding site were consistent with the crystal structure.
CONCLUSION: The mechanism of monastrol revealed by our data rationalizes its specificity for Eg5 over other kinesins and highlights a potential mechanism of drug resistance for anti-cancer therapy targeting this site in Eg5.
Katanin is a conserved AAA ATPase with the ability to sever microtubules, but its biological function in animal cells has been obscure. A recent study using electron tomography has found that katanin stimulates the production of microtubules in the meiotic spindles of Caenorhabditis elegans oocytes.
Anastral meiotic spindles are thought to be organized differently from astral mitotic spindles, but the field lacks the basic structural information required to describe and model them, including the location of microtubule-nucleating sites and minus ends. We measured the distributions of oriented microtubules in metaphase anastral spindles in Xenopus laevis extracts by fluorescence speckle microscopy and cross-correlation analysis. We localized plus ends by tubulin incorporation and combined this with the orientation data to infer the localization of minus ends. We found that minus ends are localized throughout the spindle, sparsely at the equator and at higher concentrations near the poles. Based on these data, we propose a model for maintenance of the metaphase steady-state that depends on continuous nucleation of microtubules near chromatin, followed by sorting and outward transport of stabilized minus ends, and, eventually, their loss near poles.
Actin filaments in cells depolymerize rapidly despite the presence of high concentrations of polymerizable G actin. Cofilin is recognized as a key regulator that promotes actin depolymerization. In this study, we show that although pure cofilin can disassemble Listeria monocytogenes actin comet tails, it cannot efficiently disassemble comet tails in the presence of polymerizable actin. Thymus extracts also rapidly disassemble comet tails, and this reaction is more efficient than pure cofilin when normalized to cofilin concentration. By biochemical fractionation, we identify Aip1 and coronin as two proteins present in thymus extract that facilitate the cofilin-mediated disassembly of Listeria comet tails. Together, coronin and Aip1 lower the amount of cofilin required to disassemble the comet tail and permit even low concentrations of cofilin to depolymerize actin in the presence of polymerizable G actin. The cooperative activities of cofilin, coronin, and Aip1 should provide a biochemical basis for understanding how actin filaments can grow in some places in the cell while shrinking in others.
Contractile actin cortex is involved in cell morphogenesis, movement, and cytokinesis, but its organization and assembly are poorly understood. During blebbing, the membrane detaches from the cortex and inflates. As expansion ceases, contractile cortex re-assembles under the membrane and drives bleb retraction. This cycle enabled us to measure the temporal sequence of protein recruitment to the membrane during cortex reassembly and to explore dependency relationships. Expanding blebs were devoid of actin, but proteins of the erythrocytic submembranous cytoskeleton were present. When expansion ceased, ezrin was recruited to the membrane first, followed by actin, actin-bundling proteins, and, finally, contractile proteins. Complete assembly of the contractile cortex, which was organized into a cagelike mesh of filaments, took approximately 30 s. Cytochalasin D blocked recruitment of actin and alpha-actinin, but had no effect on membrane association of ankyrin B and ezrin. Ezrin played no role in actin nucleation, but was essential for tethering the membrane to the cortex. The Rho pathway was important for cortex assembly in blebs.
Septins are polymerizing GTPases that function in cortical organization and cell division. In Saccharomyces cerevisiae they localize at the isthmus between the mother and the daughter cells, where they undergo a transition from a non-dynamic hourglass-shaped assembly to two separate rings, at the onset of cytokinesis. Septins form filaments as pure protein and in vivo, but the filament organization within the hourglass and ring structures is controversial. Here, we use polarized fluorescence microscopy of orientationally constrained green fluorescent protein to determine septin filament organization and dynamics in living yeast. We found that the hourglass is made of filaments aligned along the yeast bud neck. During the transition from hourglass to rings the filaments rotate through 90 degrees in the membrane plane and become circumferential. These data resolve a long-standing controversy in the field and provide strong evidence that septins have a mechanical function in cell division.
We demonstrate that the contractile ring protein anillin interacts directly with nonmuscle myosin II and that this interaction is regulated by myosin light chain phosphorylation. We show that despite their interaction, anillin and myosin II are independently targeted to the contractile ring. Depletion of anillin in Drosophila or human cultured cells results in cytokinesis failure. Human cells depleted for anillin fail to properly regulate contraction by myosin II late in cytokinesis and fail in abscission. We propose a role for anillin in spatially regulating the contractile activity of myosin II during cytokinesis.
Cytoplasmic extracts prepared from Xenopus laevis eggs are used for the reconstitution of a wide range of processes in cell biology, and offer a unique environment in which to investigate the role of cytoplasmic mechanics without the complication of preorganized cellular structures. As a step toward understanding the mechanical properties of this system, we have characterized the rheology of crude interphase extracts. At macroscopic length scales, the extract forms a soft viscoelastic solid. Using a conventional mechanical rheometer, we measure the elastic modulus to be in the range of 2-10 Pa, and loss modulus in the range of 0.5-5 Pa. Using pharmacological and immunological disruption methods, we establish that actin filaments and microtubules cooperate to give mechanical strength, whereas the intermediate filament cytokeratin does not contribute to viscoelasticity. At microscopic length scales smaller than the average network mesh size, the response is predominantly viscous. We use multiple particle tracking methods to measure the thermal fluctuations of 1 microm embedded tracer particles, and measure the viscosity to be approximately 20 mPa-s. We explore the impact of rheology on actin-dependent cytoplasmic contraction, and find that although microtubules modulate contractile forces in vitro, their interactions are not purely mechanical.
Maintenance of centrosome number is essential for cell-cycle progression and genomic stability, but investigation of this regulation has been limited by assay difficulty. We present a fully automated image-based centrosome-duplication assay that is accurate and robust enough for both careful cell-biology studies and high-throughput screening, and employ this assay in a series of chemical-genetic studies. We observe that a simple cytometric profiling strategy, which is based on organelle size, groups compounds with similar mechanisms of action; this suggests a simple strategy for excluding compounds that undesirably target such activities as protein synthesis and microtubule dynamics. Screening a library of compounds of known activity, we found unexpected effects on centrosome duplication by a number of drugs, most notably isoform-specific protein kinase C inhibitors and retinoic acid receptor agonists. From a 16 320-member library of uncharacterized small molecules, we identified five potent centrosome-duplication inhibitors that do not target microtubule dynamics or protein synthesis. The analysis methodology reported here is directly relevant to studies of centrosome regulation in a variety of systems and is adaptable to a wide range of other biological problems.
In Xenopus extract meiotic spindles, microtubules slide continuously towards their minus ends, a process called poleward flux. This article discusses recent progress in determining the mechanism of poleward flux, and its functions in spindle organization and generating force on chromosomes. Bipolar organization is required for flux and inhibition of the mitotic kinesin Eg5 inhibits flux, suggesting the sliding force for flux is generated by Eg5 pushing anti-parallel microtubules apart. An important function of flux in spindle organization may be to transport minus ends nucleated at chromatin towards the pole. By pulling microtubules through attachment sites at kinetochores, flux may generate poleward force on metaphase chromosomes.
Current models for protrusive motility in animal cells focus on cytoskeleton-based mechanisms, where localized protrusion is driven by local regulation of actin biochemistry. In plants and fungi, protrusion is driven primarily by hydrostatic pressure. For hydrostatic pressure to drive localized protrusion in animal cells, it would have to be locally regulated, but current models treating cytoplasm as an incompressible viscoelastic continuum or viscous liquid require that hydrostatic pressure equilibrates essentially instantaneously over the whole cell. Here, we use cell blebs as reporters of local pressure in the cytoplasm. When we locally perfuse blebbing cells with cortex-relaxing drugs to dissipate pressure on one side, blebbing continues on the untreated side, implying non-equilibration of pressure on scales of approximately 10 microm and 10 s. We can account for localization of pressure by considering the cytoplasm as a contractile, elastic network infiltrated by cytosol. Motion of the fluid relative to the network generates spatially heterogeneous transients in the pressure field, and can be described in the framework of poroelasticity.
Metaphase spindles assemble to a steady state in length by mechanisms that involve microtubule dynamics and motor proteins, but they are incompletely understood. We found that Xenopus extract spindles recapitulate the length of egg meiosis II spindles, by using mechanisms intrinsic to the spindle. To probe these mechanisms, we perturbed microtubule polymerization dynamics and opposed motor proteins and measured effects on spindle morphology and dynamics. Microtubules were stabilized by hexylene glycol and inhibition of the catastrophe factor mitotic centromere-associated kinesin (MCAK) (a kinesin 13, previously called XKCM) and destabilized by depolymerizing drugs. The opposed motors Eg5 and dynein were inhibited separately and together. Our results are consistent with important roles for polymerization dynamics in regulating spindle length, and for opposed motors in regulating the relative stability of bipolar versus monopolar organization. The response to microtubule destabilization suggests that an unidentified tensile element acts in parallel with these conventional factors, generating spindle shortening force.
Small-molecule kinase inhibitors are predominantly discovered in pure protein assays. We have discovered an inhibitor of Rho-kinase (ROCK) through an image-based, high-throughput screen of cell monolayer wound healing. Using automated microscopy, we screened a library of approximately 16,000 compounds finding many that affected cell migration or cell morphology as well as compounds that blocked mitotic progression. We tested approximately 200 compounds in a series of subassays and chose one, 3-(4-pyridyl)indole (Rockout), for more detailed characterization. Rockout inhibits blebbing and causes dissolution of actin stress fibers, phenocopying Rho-kinase inhibitors. Testing Rho-kinase activity in vitro, Rockout inhibits with an IC50 of 25 microM ( approximately 5-fold less potent than Y-27632) but has a similar specificity profile. We also profile the wound healing assay with a library of compounds with known bioactivities, revealing multiple pathways involved in the biology.
Automated fluorescence microscopy provides a powerful tool for analyzing the physiological state of single cells with high throughput and high information content. Here I discuss two types of experiments in which this technology was used to discover and characterize bioactive small molecules. In phenotypic-screening experiments, the goal is to find "hits" with specific effects on cells by screening large libraries of small molecules. An example is screening for small molecules that perturb mitosis by novel mechanisms. In cytological-profiling experiments, the goal is to characterize the bioactivity of a limited number of small molecules in considerable depth, and thus understand their mechanism and toxicities at the cellular level. I discuss an example in which 100 small molecules with known bioactivity were profiled by using multiple fluorescent probes, and clustered into mechanistic classes by automated statistical analysis.