Showing 1 - 25 of 100 results
Force propagation between epithelial cells depends on active coupling and mechano-structural polarization.
Cell-generated forces play a major role in coordinating the large-scale behavior of cell assemblies, in particular during development, wound healing and cancer. Mechanical signals propagate faster than biochemical signals, but can have similar effects, especially in epithelial tissues with strong cell-cell adhesion. However, a quantitative description of the transmission chain from force generation in a sender cell, force propagation across cell-cell boundaries, and the concomitant response of receiver cells is missing. For a quantitative analysis of this important situation, here we propose a minimal model system of two epithelial cells on an H-pattern (“cell doublet”). After optogenetically activating RhoA, a major regulator of cell contractility, in the sender cell, we measure the mechanical response of the receiver cell by traction force and monolayer stress microscopies. In general, we find that the receiver cells shows an active response so that the cell doublet forms a coherent unit. However, force propagation and response of the receiver cell also strongly depends on the mechano-structural polarization in the cell assembly, which is controlled by cell-matrix adhesion to the adhesive micropattern. We find that the response of the receiver cell is stronger when the mechano-structural polarization axis is oriented perpendicular to the direction of force propagation, reminiscent of the Poisson effect in passive materials. We finally show that the same effects are at work in small tissues. Our work demonstrates that cellular organization and active mechanical response of a tissue is key to maintain signal strength and leads to the emergence of elasticity, which means that signals are not dissipated like in a viscous system, but can propagate over large distances.
Optogenetic Protein Cleavage in Zebrafish Embryos.
A wide array of optogenetic tools is available that allow for precise spatiotemporal control over many cellular processes. These tools have been especially popular among zebrafish researchers who take advantage of the embryo's transparency. However, photocleavable optogenetic proteins have not been utilized in zebrafish. We demonstrate successful optical control of protein cleavage in embryos using PhoCl, a photocleavable fluorescent protein. This optogenetic tool offers temporal and spatial control over protein cleavage events, which we demonstrate in light-triggered protein translocation and apoptosis.
Spatiotemporal dynamics of membrane surface charge regulates cell polarity and migration.
During cell migration and polarization, hundreds of signal transduction and cytoskeletal components self-organize to generate localized protrusions. Although biochemical and genetic analyses have delineated many specific interactions, how the activation and localization of so many different molecules are spatiotemporally orchestrated at the subcellular level has remained unclear. Here we show that the regulation of negative surface charge on the inner leaflet of the plasma membrane plays an integrative role in the molecular interactions. Surface charge, or zeta potential, is transiently lowered at new protrusions and within cortical waves of Ras/PI3K/TORC2/F-actin network activation. Rapid alterations of inner leaflet anionic phospholipids, such as PI(4,5)P2, PI(3,4)P2, phosphatidylserine, and phosphatidic acid, collectively contribute to the surface charge changes. Abruptly reducing the surface charge by recruiting positively charged optogenetic actuators was sufficient to trigger the entire biochemical network, initiate de novo protrusions, and abrogate pre-existing polarity. These effects were blocked by genetic or pharmacological inhibitions of key signaling components such as Akt and PI3K/TORC2. Conversely, increasing the negative surface deactivated the network and locally suppressed chemoattractant-induced protrusions or subverted EGF-induced ERK activation. Computational simulations involving excitable biochemical networks demonstrated that slight changes in feedback loops, induced by recruitment of the actuators, could lead to outsized effects on system activation. We propose that key signaling network components act on, and are in turn acted upon, by surface charge, closing feedback loops which bring about the global-scale molecular self-organization required for spontaneous protrusion formation, cell migration, and polarity establishment.
Soluble cyclase-mediated nuclear cAMP synthesis is sufficient for cell proliferation.
cAMP is a key player in many physiological processes. Classically considered to originate solely from the plasma membrane, this view was recently challenged by observations showing that GPCRs can sustain cAMP signaling from intracellular compartments associated with nuclear PKA translocation and activation of transcriptional events. In this report we show that neither PKA translocation nor cAMP diffusion, but rather nuclear sAC activation represents the only source of nuclear cAMP accumulation, PKA activation, and CREB phosphorylation. Both pharmacological and genetic sAC inhibition, that did not affect the cytosolic cAMP levels, completed blunted nuclear cAMP accumulation, PKA activation and proliferation, while an increase in sAC nuclear expression significantly enhanced cell proliferation. Moreover, utilizing novel compartment-specific optogenetic actuators we showed that light-dependent nuclear cAMP synthesis can stimulate PKA, CREB and trigger cell proliferation. Thus, our results show that sAC-mediated nuclear accumulation is not only necessary but sufficient and rate-limiting for cAMP-dependent proliferation.
Morphogen Directed Coordination of GPCR Activity Promotes Primary Cilium Function for Downstream Signaling.
Primary cilium dysfunction triggers catastrophic failure of signal transduction pathways that organize through cilia, thus conferring significant pressure on such signals to ensure ciliary homeostasis. Intraflagellar transport (IFT) of cargo that maintains the primary cilium is powered by high ciliary cAMP. Paradoxically, Sonic Hedgehog (SHH) signaling, for which ciliary function is crucial, triggers a reduction in ciliary cAMP that could blunt downstream signaling by slowing IFT. We investigated this paradox and mapped a novel signal relay driven by SHH-stimulated prostaglandin E2 that stabilizes ciliary cAMP flux through by activating Gαs-coupled EP4 receptor. Chemical or genetic blockade of the SHH-EP4 relay cripples cAMP buffering, which leads to decreased intraciliary cAMP, short cilia, and attenuated SHH pathway induction. Accordingly, EP4-/- mice show pronounced ciliary defects and altered SHH-dependent neural tube patterning. Thus, SHH orchestrates a sophisticated ciliary GPCR-cAMP signaling network that ensures primary cilium fitness for a robust downstream signaling response.
Light-dependent modulation of protein localization and function in living bacteria cells.
Most bacteria lack membrane-enclosed organelles to compartmentalize cellular processes. In lieu of physical compartments, bacterial proteins are often recruited to macromolecular scaffolds at specific subcellular locations to carry out their functions. Consequently, the ability to modulate a protein’s subcellular location with high precision and speed bears the potential to manipulate its corresponding cellular functions. Here we demonstrate that the CRY2/CIB1 system from Arabidopsis thaliana can be used to rapidly direct proteins to different subcellular locations inside live E. coli cells including the nucleoid, the cell pole, membrane, and the midcell division plane. We further show that such light-induced re-localization can be used to rapidly inhibit cytokinesis in actively dividing E. coli cells. Finally, we demonstrate that the CRY2/CIBN binding kinetics can be modulated by green light, adding a new dimension of control to the system.
Light-inducible T cell engagers trigger, tune and shape the activation of primary T cells.
Cells perceive overtime complex sequences of receptor stimulation that they integrate to mount an appropriate response. Yet, the influence of signal dynamics on cell responses has been poorly characterized due to technical limitations. Here, we present a generalizable approach to control receptor stimulation on unmodified primary cells. Indeed, for applications on primary murine T cells, we have engineered the LiTe system, a new recombinant optogenetics-based Light-inducible T cell engager which allows tunable and reversible spatiotemporal control of the T Cell Receptor (TCR) stimulation. We also provided in vitro evidence that this system enables efficient T cell activation with light, leading to cytokine secretion or tumor cell killing. Using specific time-gated stimulations, we have been able to orient the outcome of the activation of T cells. Overall, the LiTe system constitutes a versatile ON/OFF molecular switch allowing to decipher the cellular response to stimulation dynamics. Its original control over T cell activation opens new avenues for future precision cancer immunotherapy.
Motor processivity and speed determine structure and dynamics of microtubule-motor assemblies.
Active matter systems can generate highly ordered structures, avoiding equilibrium through the consumption of energy by individual constituents. How the microscopic parameters that characterize the active agents are translated to the observed mesoscopic properties of the assembly has remained an open question. These active systems are prevalent in living matter; for example, in cells, the cytoskeleton is organized into structures such as the mitotic spindle through the coordinated activity of many motor proteins walking along microtubules. Here, we investigate how the microscopic motor-microtubule interactions affect the coherent structures formed in a reconstituted motor-microtubule system. This question is of deeper evolutionary significance as we suspect motor and microtubule type contribute to the shape and size of resulting structures. We explore key parameters experimentally and theoretically, using a variety of motors with different speeds, proces-sivities, and directionalities. We demonstrate that aster size depends on the motor used to create the aster, and develop a model for the distribution of motors and microtubules in steady-state asters that depends on parameters related to motor speed and processivity. Further, we show that network contraction rates scale linearly with the single-motor speed in quasi one-dimensional contraction experiments. In all, this theoretical and experimental work helps elucidate how microscopic motor properties are translated to the much larger scale of collective motor-microtubule assemblies.
LILAC: Enhanced actin imaging with an optogenetic Lifeact.
We have designed an improved Lifeact variant that binds to actin under the control of light using the LOV2 protein. Light control enables one to subtract the pre-illumination signal of the unbound label, yielding an enhanced view of F-actin dynamics in cells. Furthermore, the tool eliminates actin network perturbations and cell sickness caused by Lifeact overexpression.
mTORC2 coordinates the leading and trailing edge cytoskeletal programs during neutrophil migration.
By acting both upstream and downstream of biochemical organizers of the cytoskeleton, physical forces function as central integrators of cell shape and movement. Here we use a combination of genetic, pharmacological, and optogenetic perturbations to probe the role of the conserved mechanoresponsive mTORC2 program in neutrophil polarity and motility. We find that the tension-based inhibition of leading edge signals (Rac, F-actin) that underlies protrusion competition is gated by the kinase-independent role of the complex, whereas the mTORC2 kinase arm is essential for regulation of Rho activity and Myosin II-based contraction at the trailing edge. Cells required mTORC2 for spatial and temporal coordination between the front and back polarity programs and persistent migration under confinement. mTORC2 is in a mechanosensory cascade, but membrane stretch did not suffice to stimulate mTORC2 unless the co-input PIP3 was also present. Our work suggests that different signalling arms of mTORC2 regulate spatially and molecularly divergent cytoskeletal programs allowing efficient coordination of neutrophil shape and movement.
Optogenetic actuator/ERK biosensor circuits identify MAPK network nodes that shape ERK dynamics.
Combining single-cell measurements of ERK activity dynamics with perturbations provides insights into the MAPK network topology. We built circuits consisting of an optogenetic actuator to activate MAPK signaling and an ERK biosensor to measure single-cell ERK dynamics. This allowed us to conduct RNAi screens to investigate the role of 50 MAPK proteins in ERK dynamics. We found that the MAPK network is robust against most node perturbations. We observed that the ERK-RAF and the ERK-RSK2-SOS negative feedbacks operate simultaneously to regulate ERK dynamics. Bypassing the RSK2-mediated feedback, either by direct optogenetic activation of RAS, or by RSK2 perturbation, sensitized ERK dynamics to further perturbations. Similarly, targeting this feedback in a human ErbB2-dependent oncogenic signaling model increased the efficiency of a MEK inhibitor. The RSK2-mediated feedback is thus important for the ability of the MAPK network to produce consistent ERK outputs and its perturbation can enhance the efficiency of MAPK inhibitors.
Regulation of EGF-stimulated activation of the PI-3K/AKT pathway by exocyst-mediated exocytosis.
The phosphoinositide-3 kinase (PI-3K)/AKT cell survival pathway is an important pathway activated by EGFR signaling. Here we show, that in addition to previously described critical components of this pathway, i.e., the docking protein Gab1, the PI-3K/AKT pathway in epithelial cells is regulated by the exocyst complex, which is a vesicle tether that is essential for exocytosis. Using live-cell imaging, we demonstrate that PI(3,4,5)P3 levels fluctuate at the membrane on a minutes time scale and that these fluctuations are associated with local PI(3,4,5)P3 increases at sites where recycling vesicles undergo exocytic fusion. Supporting a role for exocytosis in PI(3,4,5)P3 generation, acute promotion of exocytosis by optogenetically driving exocyst-mediated vesicle tethering upregulates PI(3,4,5)P3 production and AKT activation. Conversely, acute inhibition of exocytosis using Endosidin2, a small-molecule inhibitor of the exocyst subunit Exo70, impairs PI(3,4,5)P3 production and AKT activation induced by EGF stimulation of epithelial cells. Moreover, prolonged inhibition of EGF signaling by EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors results in spontaneous reactivation of AKT without a concomitant relief of EGFR inhibition. However, this reactivation can be negated by acutely inhibiting the exocyst. These experiments demonstrate that exocyst-mediated exocytosis – by regulating PI(3,4,5)P3 levels at the plasma membrane – subserves activation of the PI-3K/AKT pathway by EGFR in epithelial cells.
The rate of information transmission through the MAPK/ERK signaling pathway stimulated in a pulsatile manner.
Many intracellular signaling pathways, including the MAPK/ERK cascade, respond to an external stimulus in a yes-or-no manner. This has been reflected in estimates of the amount of information a single cell can transmit about the amplitude of an applied (and sustained) input signal, which turns out to only slightly exceed 1 bit. More information, however, can potentially be transmitted in response to time-varying stimulation. In this work, we find a lower bound of the MAPK/ERK signaling channel capacity. We use an epithelial cell line expressing an ERK activity reporter and an optogenetically modified fibroblast growth factor receptor, which allows triggering eventual ERK activity by short light pulses. We observe that it is possible to reconstruct the stimulatory input pattern with five-minute delay and one-minute resolution. By stimulating the cells with random pulse trains we demonstrate that the information transmission rate through the MAPK/ERK pathway can exceed 6 bits per hour. Such high information transmission rate allows the MAPK/ERK pathway to coordinate multiple processes including cell movement.
CRY-BARs: Versatile light-gated molecular tools for the remodeling of membrane architectures.
BAR (Bin, Amphiphysin and Rvs) protein domains are responsible for the generation of membrane curvature and represent a critical mechanical component of cellular functions. Thus, BAR domains have great potential as components of membrane-remodeling tools for cell biologists. In this work, we describe the design and implementation of a family of versatile light-gated I-BAR domain containing tools (CRY-BARs) with applications in the remodeling of membrane architectures and the control of cellular dynamics. By taking advantage of the intrinsic membrane binding propensity of the I-BAR domain, CRY-BARs can be used for spatial and temporal control of cellular processes that require induction of membrane protrusions. Using cell lines and primary neuron cultures, we demonstrate that the CRY-BAR optogenetic tool reports membrane dynamic changes associated with cellular activity. Moreover, we provide evidence that Ezrin acts as a relay between the plasma membrane and the actin cytoskeleton and therefore is an important mediator of switch function. Overall, CRY-BARs hold promise as a useful addition to the optogenetic toolkit to study membrane remodeling in live cells.
Cell size and actin architecture determine force generation in optogenetically activated adherent cells.
Adherent cells use actomyosin contractility to generate mechanical force and to sense the physical properties of their environment, with dramatic consequences for migration, division, differentiation and fate. However, the organization of the actomyosin system within cells is highly variable, with its assembly and function being controlled by small GTPases from the Rho-family. How activation of these regulators translates into cell-scale force generation and the corresponding sensing capabilities in the context of different physical environments is not understood. Here we probe this relationship combining recent advances in non-neuronal optogenetics with micropatterning and traction force microscopy on soft elastic substrates. We find that after whole-cell RhoA-activation by the CRY2/CIBN optogenetic system with a short pulse of 100 milliseconds, single cells contract before returning to their original tension setpoint with near perfect precision on a time scale of several minutes. To decouple the biochemical and mechanical elements of this response, we introduce a mathematical model that is parametrized by fits to the dynamics of the substrate deformation energy. We find that the RhoA-response builds up quickly on a time scale of 20 seconds, but decays slowly on a time scale of 50 seconds. The larger the cells and the more polarized their actin cytoskeleton, the more substrate deformation energy is generated. RhoA-activation starts to saturate if optogenetic pulse length exceeds 50 milliseconds, revealing the intrinsic limits of biochemical activation. Together our results suggest that adherent cells establish tensional homeostasis by the RhoA-system, but that the setpoint and the dynamics around it are strongly determined by cell size and the architecture of the actin cytoskeleton, which both are controlled by the extracellular environment.
A rich get richer effect governs intracellular condensate size distributions.
Phase separation of biomolecules into condensates has emerged as a ubiquitous mechanism for intracellular organization and impacts many intracellular processes, including reaction pathways through clustering of enzymes and their intermediates. Precise and rapid spatiotemporal control of reactions by condensates requires tuning of their sizes. However, the physical processes that govern the distribution of condensate sizes remain unclear. Here, we utilize a combination of synthetic and native condensates to probe the underlying physical mechanisms determining condensate size. We find that both native nuclear speckles and FUS condensates formed with the synthetic Corelet system obey an exponential size distribution, which can be recapitulated in Monte Carlo simulations of fast nucleation followed by coalescence. By contrast, pathological aggregation of cytoplasmic Huntingtin polyQ protein exhibits a power-law size distribution, with an exponent of −1.41 ± 0.02. These distinct behaviors reflect the relative importance of nucleation and coalescence kinetics: introducing continuous condensate nucleation into the Monte Carlo coarsening simulations gives rise to polyQ-like power-law behavior. We demonstrate that the emergence of power-law distributions under continuous nucleation reflects a “rich get richer” effect, whose extent may play a general role in the determination of condensate size distributions.
LITOS - a versatile LED illumination tool for optogenetic stimulation.
Optogenetics has become a key tool to manipulate biological processes with high spatio-temporal resolution. Recently, a number of commercial and open-source multi-well illumination devices have been developed to provide throughput in optogenetics experiments. However, available commercial devices remain expensive and lack flexibility, while open-source solutions require programming knowledge and/or include complex assembly processes. We present a LED Illumination Tool for Optogenetic Stimulation (LITOS) based on an assembled printed circuit board controlling a commercially available 32x64 LED matrix as illumination source. LITOS can be quickly assembled without any soldering, and includes an easy-to-use interface, accessible via a website hosted on the device itself. Complex light stimulation patterns can easily be programmed without coding expertise. LITOS can be used with different formats of multi-well plates, petri dishes, and flasks. We validated LITOS by measuring the activity of the MAPK/ERK signaling pathway in response to different dynamic light stimulation regimes using FGFR1 and Raf optogenetic actuators. LITOS can uniformly stimulate all the cells in a well and allows for flexible temporal stimulation schemes. LITOS’s ease of use aims at democratizing optogenetics in any laboratory.
Spindle reorientation in response to mechanical stress is an emergent property of the spindle positioning mechanisms.
Proper orientation of the mitotic spindle plays a crucial role in embryos, during tissue development, and in adults, where it functions to dissipate mechanical stress to maintain tissue integrity and homeostasis. While mitotic spindles have been shown to reorient in response to external mechanical stresses, the subcellular cues that mediate spindle reorientation remain unclear. Here, we have used a combination of optogenetics and computational modelling to better understand how mitotic spindles respond to inhomogeneous tension within the actomyosin cortex. Strikingly, we find that the optogenetic activation of RhoA only influences spindle orientation when it is induced at both poles of the cell. Under these conditions, the sudden local increase in cortical tension induced by RhoA activation reduces pulling forces exerted by cortical regulators on astral microtubules. This leads to a perturbation of the torque balance exerted on the spindle, which causes it to rotate. Thus, spindle rotation in response to mechanical stress is an emergent phenomenon arising from the interaction between the spindle positioning machinery and the cell cortex.
Spatio-temporal, optogenetic control of gene expression in organoids.
Organoids derived from stem cells become increasingly important to study human development and to model disease. However, methods are needed to control and study spatio-temporal patterns of gene expression in organoids. To this aim, we combined optogenetics and gene perturbation technologies to activate or knock-down RNA of target genes, at single-cell resolution and in programmable spatio-temporal patterns. To illustrate the usefulness of our approach, we locally activated Sonic Hedgehog (SHH) signaling in an organoid model for human neurodevelopment. High-resolution spatial transcriptomic and single-cell analyses showed that this local induction was sufficient to generate stereotypically patterned organoids in three dimensions and revealed new insights into SHH’s contribution to gene regulation in neurodevelopment. With this study, we propose optogenetic perturbations in combination with spatial transcriptomics as a powerful technology to reprogram and study cell fates and tissue patterning in organoids.
Oncogenic protein condensates modulate cell signal perception and drug tolerance.
Drug resistance remains a central challenge towards durable cancer therapy, including for cancers driven by the EML4-ALK oncogene. EML4-ALK and related fusion oncogenes form cytoplasmic protein condensates that transmit oncogenic signals through the Ras/Erk pathway. However, whether such condensates play a role in drug response or resistance development is unclear. Here, we applied optogenetic functional profiling to examine how EML4-ALK condensates impact signal transmission through transmembrane receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs), a common route of resistance signaling. We found that condensates dramatically suppress signaling through activated RTKs including EGFR. Conversely, ALK inhibition restored and hypersensitized RTK signals. Modulation of RTK sensitivity occurred because EML4-ALK condensates sequestered downstream adapters that are required to transduce signals from both EML4-ALK and ligand-stimulated RTKs. Strikingly, EGFR hypersensitization resulted in rapid and pulsatile Erk signal reactivation within 10s of minutes of drug addition. EGFR reactivation originated from paracrine signals from neighboring apoptotic cells, and reactivation could be blocked by inhibition of either EGFR or matrix metalloproteases. Paracrine signals promoted survival during ALK inhibition, and blockade of paracrine signals accelerated cell killing and suppressed drug tolerance. Our results uncover a regulatory role for protein condensates in cancer signaling and drug response and demonstrate the potential of optogenetic profiling for drug discovery based on functional biomarkers in cancer cells.
Nucleation of the destruction complex on the centrosome accelerates degradation of β-catenin and regulates Wnt signal transmission.
Wnt signal transduction is mediated by a protein assembly called the Destruction Complex (DC) made from scaffold proteins and kinases that are essential for transducing extracellular Wnt ligand concentrations to changes in nuclear β-catenin, the pathway’s transcriptional effector. Recently, DC scaffold proteins have been shown to undergo liquid-liquid phase separation in vivo and in vitro providing evidence for a mesoscale organization of the DC. However, the mesoscale organization of DC at endogenous expression levels and how that organization could play a role in β-catenin processing is unknown. Here we find that the native mesoscale structure is a dynamic biomolecular condensate nucleated by the centrosome. Through a combination of advanced microscopy, CRISPR-engineered custom fluorescent tags, finite element simulations, and optogenetic tools, that allow for independent manipulation of the biophysical parameters that drive condensate formation, we find that a function of DC nucleation by the centrosome is to drive efficient processing of β-catenin by co-localizing DC components to a single reaction hub. We demonstrate that simply increasing the concentration of a single DC kinase onto the centrosome controls β-catenin processing. This simple change in localization completely alters the fate of the Wnt-driven human embryonic stem cell differentiation to mesoderm. Our findings demonstrate the role of nucleators in dynamically controlling the activities of biomolecular condensates and suggest a tight integration between cell cycle progression and Wnt signal transduction.
A nucleation barrier spring-loads the CBM signalosome for binary activation.
Immune cells activate in a binary, switch-like fashion that involves proteins polymerizing into large complexes known as signalosomes. The switch-like nature of signalosome formation has been proposed to result from large energy barriers to polymer nucleation. Whether such nucleation barriers indeed drive binary immune responses has not yet been shown. Here, we employed an in-cell biophysical approach to dissect the assembly mechanism of the CARD-BCL10-MALT1 (CBM) signalosome, a key determinant of transcription factor NF-κB activation in both innate and adaptive immunity. We found that the adaptor protein BCL10 encodes an intrinsic nucleation barrier, and that this barrier has been conserved from cnidaria to humans. Using optogenetic tools and a single-cell transcriptional reporter of NF-κB activity, we further revealed that endogenous human BCL10 is supersaturated even in unstimulated cells, indicating that the nucleation barrier operationally stores energy for subsequent activation. We found that upon stimulation, BCL10 nucleation by CARD9 multimers triggers self-templated polymerization that saturates NF-κB activation to produce a binary response. Pathogenic mutants of CARD9 that cause human immunodeficiencies eliminated nucleating activity. Conversely, a hyperactive cancer-causing mutation in BCL10 increased its spontaneous nucleation. Our results indicate that unassembled CBM signalosome components function analogously to a spring-loaded mousetrap, constitutively poised to activate NF-κB through irrevocable polymerization. This finding may inform our understanding of the root causes and progressive nature of pathogenic and age-associated inflammation.
Mechanical strain stimulates COPII-dependent trafficking via Rac1.
Secretory trafficking from the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is subject to regulation by extrinsic and intrinsic factors. While much of the focus has been on biochemical triggers, little is known whether and how the ER is subject to regulation by mechanical signals. Here, we show that COPII-dependent ER-export is regulated by mechanical strain. Mechanotransduction to the ER was mediated via a previously unappreciated ER-localized pool of the small GTPase Rac1. Mechanistically, we show that Rac1 interacts with the small GTPase Sar1 to drive budding of COPII carriers and stimulate ER-to-Golgi transport. Altogether, we establish an unprecedented link between mechanical strain and export from the ER.
WNK kinases sense molecular crowding and rescue cell volume via phase separation.
When challenged by hypertonicity, dehydrated cells must defend their volume to survive. This process requires the phosphorylation-dependent regulation of SLC12 cation chloride transporters by WNK kinases, but how these kinases are activated by cell shrinkage remains unknown. Within seconds of cell exposure to hypertonicity, WNK1 concentrates into membraneless droplets, initiating a phosphorylation-dependent signal that drives net ion influx via the SLC12 cotransporters to rescue volume. The formation of WNK1 condensates is driven by its intrinsically disordered C-terminus, whose evolutionarily conserved signatures are necessary for efficient phase separation and volume recovery. This disorder-encoded phase behavior occurs within physiological constraints and is activated in vivo by molecular crowding rather than changes in cell size. This allows WNK1 to bypass a strengthened ionic milieu that favors kinase inactivity and reclaim cell volume through condensate-mediated signal amplification. Thus, WNK kinases are physiological crowding sensors that phase separate to coordinate a cell volume rescue response.
Regulating bacterial behavior within hydrogels of tunable viscoelasticity.
Engineered living materials (ELMs) are a new class of materials in which living organism incorporated into diffusive matrices uptake a fundamental role in material’s composition and function. Understanding how the spatial confinement in 3D affects the behavior of the embedded cells is crucial to design and predict ELM’s function, regulate and minimize their environmental impact and facilitate their translation into applied materials. This study investigates the growth and metabolic activity of bacteria within an associative hydrogel network (Pluronic-based) with mechanical properties that can be tuned by introducing a variable degree of acrylate crosslinks. Individual bacteria distributed in the hydrogel matrix at low density form functional colonies whose size is controlled by the extent of permanent crosslinks. With increasing stiffness and decreasing plasticity of the matrix, a decrease in colony volumes and an increase in their sphericity is observed. Protein production surprisingly follows a different pattern with higher production yields occurring in networks with intermediate permanent crosslinking degrees. These results demonstrate that, bacterial mechanosensitivity can be used to control and regulate the composition and function of ELMs by thoughtful design of the encapsulating matrix, and by following design criteria with interesting similarities to those developed for 3D culture of mammalian cells.