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Open Access Research article

Direct observation of molecular arrays in the organized smooth endoplasmic reticulum

Vladimir M Korkhov12* and Benoît Zuber1

Author Affiliations

1 MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Hills Road, CB2 0QH, Cambridge, UK

2 Institute of Molecular Biology and Biophysics, ETH Hoenggerberg, Schafmattstr. 20, 8093 Zurich, Switzerland

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BMC Cell Biology 2009, 10:59  doi:10.1186/1471-2121-10-59

Published: 24 August 2009

Abstract

Background

Tubules and sheets of endoplasmic reticulum perform different functions and undergo inter-conversion during different stages of the cell cycle. Tubules are stabilized by curvature inducing resident proteins, but little is known about the mechanisms of endoplasmic reticulum sheet stabilization. Tethering of endoplasmic reticulum membranes to the cytoskeleton or to each other has been proposed as a plausible way of sheet stabilization.

Results

Here, using fluorescence microscopy we show that the previously proposed mechanisms, such as membrane tethering via GFP-dimerization or coiled coil protein aggregation - do not explain the formation of the calnexin-induced organized smooth endoplasmic reticulum membrane stacks. We also show that the LINC complex proteins known to serve a tethering function in the nuclear envelope are excluded from endoplasmic reticulum stacks. Finally, using cryo-electron microscopy of vitreous sections methodology that preserves cellular architecture in a hydrated, native-like state, we show that the sheet stacks are highly regular and may contain ordered arrays of macromolecular complexes. Some of these complexes decorate the cytosolic surface of the membranes, whereas others appear to span the width of the cytosolic or luminal space between the stacked sheets.

Conclusion

Our results provide evidence in favour of the hypothesis of endoplasmic reticulum sheet stabilization by intermembrane tethering.