Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Sea urchin vault structure, composition, and differential localization during development

Phoebe L Stewart12*, Miriam Makabi2, Jennifer Lang3, Carrie Dickey-Sims4, Anthony J Robertson4, James A Coffman4 and Kathy A Suprenant3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN USA

2 Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology, Crump Institute for Molecular Imaging, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, CA USA

3 Department of Molecular Biosciences, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS USA

4 Stowers Institute for Medical Research, Kansas City, MO USA

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BMC Developmental Biology 2005, 5:3  doi:10.1186/1471-213X-5-3

Published: 14 February 2005



Vaults are intriguing ribonucleoprotein assemblies with an unknown function that are conserved among higher eukaryotes. The Pacific coast sea urchin, Strongylocentrotus purpuratus, is an invertebrate model organism that is evolutionarily closer to humans than Drosophila and C. elegans, neither of which possesses vaults. Here we compare the structures of sea urchin and mammalian vaults and analyze the subcellular distribution of vaults during sea urchin embryogenesis.


The sequence of the sea urchin major vault protein (MVP) was assembled from expressed sequence tags and genome traces, and the predicted protein was found to have 64% identity and 81% similarity to rat MVP. Sea urchin MVP includes seven ~50 residue repeats in the N-terminal half of the protein and a predicted coiled coil domain in the C-terminus, as does rat MVP. A cryoelectron microscopy (cryoEM) reconstruction of isolated sea urchin vaults reveals the assembly to have a barrel-shaped external structure that is nearly identical to the rat vault structure. Analysis of the molecular composition of the sea urchin vault indicates that it contains components that may be homologs of the mammalian vault RNA component (vRNA) and protein components (VPARP and TEP1). The sea urchin vault appears to have additional protein components in the molecular weight range of 14–55 kDa that might correspond to molecular contents. Confocal experiments indicate a dramatic relocalization of MVP from the cytoplasm to the nucleus during sea urchin embryogenesis.


These results are suggestive of a role for the vault in delivering macromolecules to the nucleus during development.