In the course of experiments designed to identify and characterize structural proteins of the nuclear matrix, one antibody was generated which recognized an extraction-resistant cytoplasmic protein. This antibody was used as the starting point in the cloning and molecular characterization of a novel protein of the inter-membrane space of the mitochondrion which has been named mitofilin. Mitofilin is expressed in all human cell types, and murine homologues also exist. Mitofilin associates only with mitochondria and not with other membrane-bounded organelles such as Golgi or endoplasmic reticulum. This observation has been confirmed both by biochemical fractionation and multi-label fluorescence microscopy. Recombinant mitofilin, purified to homogeneity by affinity chromatography and preparative electrophoresis, was used to raise second-generation antibodies. Results of Western blot and immunofluorescence microscopy experiments, identical to those obtained using the original monoclonal antibody, verify the cloning and biochemical characterization. The mitofilin polypeptide contains several regions which are predicted to interact by forming coiled coils; a mitochondrial targeting signal; and a hydrophobic, membrane-spanning domain. During the course of this work, a sequence match was found with a cDNA reported by Icho, et al (1994) for a mRNA preferentially expressed in heart muscle, which they have called HMP. Evidence is presented which contradicts those authors' contention that HMP is a kinesin-like motor protein.
In the course of these investigations, methods were developed to detect and quantitate the expression of solubilization-resistant proteins of the nuclear matrix and the nuclear matrix-intermediate filament scaffold. This was accomplished by combining SDS-PAGE, high sensitivity chemiluminescent Western blots, and scanning densitometry. Sensitivity in the picogram range was obtained, and reproducibility was assessed. For semi-quantitative measurements of protein expression in tissue samples, cell number was normalized by measurement of lamin B, the major protein of the nuclear envelope. Results of screening several cell and tissue types for the expression of mitofilin and for the nuclear matrix proteins NuMA, the nucleoporin tpr, and lamin B are presented. These preliminary data suggest a potential connection of over-expression of NuMA, tpr, and mitofilin with ovarian carcinoma. In addition, quantitative analysis of mitofilin expression in a variety of human cell types was done using purified recombinant protein antigen as the standard.
The presence of coiled coil domains in these and other proteins associated with cellular sub-structures gave rise to the third area of investigation described here. Experimental observations of the nuclear matrix-intermediate filament scaffold (NMIF), a tissue-wide structure greatly enriched in coiled coil proteins, led to the following hypothesis: that the differentiated cell and tissue architecture which characterizes Metazoa has evolved through the propagation and selective expression of genes encoding a wide variety of coiled coil proteins, and the integration of the gene products into a tissue-wide matrix based on coiled coil interactions. This hypothesis was explored by computer searches of sequence data files. The GenBank phylogenetic sequence files were examined with a heptad repeat analysis program to assess the occurrence of coiled coil proteins. how heptad repeat domains are organized within these proteins, and what structural/functional categories they comprised. Of 102,007 proteins analyzed, 5.95% (6074) contained coiled coil domains: 1.26% (1289) contained "extended" (> 75 amino acid) domains. While the frequency of proteins containing coiled coils was surprisingly constant among all biota, extended coiled coil proteins were 4-fold more frequent in the animal kingdom, and may reflect early events in the divergence of plants and animals. Structure/function categories of extended coils also revealed phylogenetic differences. In pathogens and parasites, many extended coiled coil proteins are external and bind host proteins. In animals, the majority of extended coiled coil proteins were identified as constituents of two categories: 1) myosins and motors, or 2) components of the NMIF. This scaffold, produced by sequential extraction of epithelial monolayers in situ, contains only 1-2% of the cell mass while accurately retaining morphological features of living epithelium. The NMIF incorporates many proteins with extensive, interrupted coiled coil forming domains. The increased occurrence of this type of protein in Metazoa compared to plants or protists supports the hypothesis that a tissue-wide matrix of coiled coil interactions underlies metazoan differentiated cell and tissue structure.
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