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Tubulohelical membrane arrays: From the initial observation to the elucidation of nanophysical properties and cellular function

PMC Biophysics
Springer (Biomed Central Ltd.)
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1186/1757-5036-3-13
  • Problem
  • Biology
  • Communication
  • Engineering
  • Physics


Lipids undergo self-assembly to form ordered nonlamellar, nanoperiodic arrays both in vitro and in vivo. While engineering of such membrane arrays for technical devices is envisaged, we know little about their cellular function. Do they represent building blocks of an inherent cellular nanotechnology? Prospects for answering this question could be improved if the nanophysical properties of the membrane arrays could be studied in the context of specific cellular functions. Therefore, we draw attention to exceptional complex membrane arrays found in the renal epithelial cell line PtK2 that could provide perfect conditions for both biophysical and cell functional studies. The so-called tubulohelical membrane arrays (TUHMAs) combine nanoperiodicity of lipid membranes with that of helix-like proteinaceous core structures. Strikingly, they show several characteristics of dynamic, microtubule-associated single organelles. Our initial data indicate that TUHMA formation occurs in the depth of the cytoplasm under participation of cytoplasmic nucleoporins. Once matured, they may fuse with the nuclear membrane in polarized positions, either perpendicularly or in parallel to the nucleus. As a starting point for the initiation of functional studies we found a connection between TUHMAs and primary cilia, indicated by immunolabeling patterns of detyrosynated tubulin and cytoplasmic nucleoporins. We discuss these observations in the context of the ciliary cycle and of the specific requirement of ciliated renal epithelial cells for oriented cell division. Finally, we raise the question of whether putative nanooptical properties of TUHMAs could serve for communicating orientation between dividing cells. MCS codes: 92C37, 92C05, 92C50

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