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Samurai sword protein makes strategic cuts in cell skeletons
Date:10/24/2013

Just as our bodies have skeletons, so do our cells. They're equally indispensible in both cases. Without our bony skeletons we'd go limp and fall down. And without our cytoskeletons, our cells, which come in roughly 200 different shapes and sizes, would all become tiny spheres and stop working.

Using cells from the stem of a seedling as a model system, Ram Dixit's lab at Washington University in St. Louis seeks to understand the molecular mechanisms that organize and pattern the hundreds or thousands of microtubular "bones" of the plant cytoskeleton. In their model system, the microtubules form parallel bands like barrel hoops around the cell's girth.

Dixit's lab shows in the Oct. 24 online issue of Current Biology that misaligned microtubules that grow over existing microtubules are cut at the crossovers by the enzyme katanin, named for the katana, or samurai sword. Once a microtubule is cut, the part downstream of the cut falls apart, disintegrating into individual tubulin units.

Because katanin shows up at crossovers just before a microtubule is cut and because there is no cutting in a mutant plant line lacking katanin, the WUSTL scientists are sure that katanin and katanin alone is responsible for this activity. In the mutant the microtubules form disorganized cobwebs.

The scientists also showed, by chilling cells to destroy their cytoskeletons, that katanin organizes the cytoskeleton in the first place as well as maintains its organization once it has formed.

Stars, hoops, fans and cobwebs

The cytoskeleton whether it's in an animal or a plant cell is the framework that organizes the interior of the cell, Dixit says. It has two basic functions. It helps shape and support the cell, and it serves as a highway along which molecules and organelles move from one part of the cell to another.

To perform its funct
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Contact: Diana Lutz
dlutz@wustl.edu
314-935-5272
Washington University in St. Louis
Source:Eurekalert  

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