Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Molecular and Cell Biology
Peter A. Rubenstein
Actin isoform specific mutations have been identified as causes for various human diseases. These include twelve missense mutations in γ-nonmuscle actin leading to early onset autosomal dominate nonsyndromic hearing loss and twenty two missense mutations in α-smooth muscle actin leading to thoracic aortic aneurysms and dissections (TAAD). The molecular mechanisms leading to these human pathologies are mainly unknown, principally due to the inability to isolate pure mutant γ-nonmuscle actin and α-smooth muscle actin in quantities required for biochemical analysis. To begin to address these problems, I have individually expressed the human nonmuscle actin isoforms, β– and γ– nonmuscle actin, in a baculovirus expression system and characterized their biochemical properties. Surprisingly, despite a conserved amino acid difference of only 4 residues at or near the N-terminus, Ca-γ-actin exhibits slower monomeric and filamentous biochemical properties than β-actin. In the Mg-form, the difference between the two is smaller. Mixing experiments with Ca-actins reveal the two will readily co-polymerize. Calcium bound in the high affinity binding site of γ-actin may cause a selective energy barrier relative to β-actin that retards the equilibration between G– and F-monomer conformations resulting in a slower polymerizing actin with greater filament stability. This difference may be particularly important in sites such as the γ-actin-rich cochlear hair cell stereocilium where local mM calcium concentrations may exist. In hair cells γ-nonmuscle actin seems to play a central role in stereocilia maintenance. To determine how the deafness causing D51N-γ-mutant actin mutation leads to deafness, I expressed and characterized it in the γ-actin background. The D51N mutation, lethal when cloned into yeast, displayed decreased filament stability and polymerization kinetics of an actin more dynamic than γ-actin. This result suggests that the hearing effects of the γ-actin mutations on the hearing apparatus are not simply caused by an inability to polymerize. The observed increased polymerization rates and decreased filament stability may have major implications for the human disease, as the mutation may alter the ability of the γ-actin to fulfill its maintenance functions.
To address the basis by which TAAD mutations cause vascular dysfunction I introduced two of the know human mutations, N115T and R116Q, into yeast actin, 86% identical to human α-smooth muscle actin. I then generated yeast strains expressing each of these mutations as the sole actin in the cell to assess their effect on actin function in vivo and in vitro. Both mutant strains exhibited reduced ability to grow under a variety of stress conditions, although the N115T cells were more severely affected. In vitro the mutations caused exhibited altered thermostability and nucleotide exchange rates indicating effects on monomer conformation with R116Q the most severely affected. The N115T actin demonstrated a biphasic elongation phase during polymerization, while R116Q actin demonstrated a markedly extended nucleation phase. Allele-specific effects were also seen on critical concentration, rate of depolymerization and filament treadmilling. R116Q filaments were hypersensitive to severing by the actin-binding protein cofilin. In contrast, N115T filaments were hyposensitive to cofilin, despite near normal binding affinities of actin for cofilin. The mutant specific effects on actin behavior suggest that individual mechanisms may contribute to TAAD. Understanding the mechanisms of actin dependent human diseases requires elucidation of the effects of the mutations on the behavior of actin per se, its regulation, and the impact on actin mediated processes within the cell. The work provided in this thesis and future studies will provide the information required to understand the pathways involved in these diseases and form innovative treatments for deafness and TAAD.
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Copyright 2011 Sarah Elizabeth Bergeron