Septins throughout phylogeny are predicted to have a transmembrane domain, which in Caenorhabditis elegans is functionally important.

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Septins throughout phylogeny are predicted to have a transmembrane domain, which in Caenorhabditis elegans is functionally important.

Authors

Perry, J. A.; Werner, M. E.; Heck, B. W.; Maddox, P.; Maddox, A. S.

Abstract

Septins, a conserved family of filament-forming proteins, contribute to eukaryotic cell division, polarity, and membrane trafficking. Septins are thought to act in these processes by scaffolding other proteins to the plasma membrane. The mechanisms by which septins associate with the plasma membrane are not well understood but can involve two polybasic domains and/or an amphipathic helix. We discovered that the genomes of organisms throughout phylogeny, but not most commonly used model organisms, encode one or more septins predicted to have transmembrane domains. The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, which was thought to express only two septin proteins, UNC-59 and UNC-61, translates multiple isoforms of UNC-61, and one isoform, UNC-61a, is predicted to contain a transmembrane domain. UNC-61a localizes specifically to the apical membrane of the C. elegans vulva and is important for maintaining vulval morphology. UNC-61a partially compensates for the loss of the other two UNC-61 isoforms, UNC-61b and UNC-61c. The UNC-61a transmembrane domain is sufficient to localize a fluorophore to membranes in mammalian cells, and its deletion from UNC-61a recapitulates the phenotypes of unc-61a null animals. The localization and loss-of-function phenotypes of UNC-61a and its transmembrane domain suggest roles in cell polarity and secretion and help explain the cellular and tissue biological underpinnings of C. elegans septin null alleles\' enigmatically hypomorphic phenotypes. Together, our findings reveal a novel mechanism of septin-membrane association with profound implications for the dynamics and regulation of this association.

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