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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The structure of mollusc larval shells formed in the presence of the chitin synthase inhibitor Nikkomycin Z

Veronika Schönitzer1 and Ingrid M Weiss12*

Author Affiliations

1 Lehrstuhl Biochemie I, Universität Regensburg, Universitätsstr. 31, 93053 Regensburg, Germany

2 INM – Leibniz-Institut für Neue Materialien gGmbH, Campus D2 2, 66123 Saarbrücken, Germany

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BMC Structural Biology 2007, 7:71  doi:10.1186/1472-6807-7-71

Published: 6 November 2007

Abstract

Background

Chitin self-assembly provides a dynamic extracellular biomineralization interface. The insoluble matrix of larval shells of the marine bivalve mollusc Mytilus galloprovincialis consists of chitinous material that is distributed and structured in relation to characteristic shell features. Mollusc shell chitin is synthesized via a complex transmembrane chitin synthase with an intracellular myosin motor domain.

Results

Enzymatic mollusc chitin synthesis was investigated in vivo by using the small-molecule drug NikkomycinZ, a structural analogue to the sugar donor substrate UDP-N-acetyl-D-glucosamine (UDP-GlcNAc). The impact on mollusc shell formation was analyzed by binocular microscopy, polarized light video microscopy in vivo, and scanning electron microscopy data obtained from shell material formed in the presence of NikkomycinZ. The partial inhibition of chitin synthesis in vivo during larval development by NikkomycinZ (5 μM – 10 μM) dramatically alters the structure and thus the functionality of the larval shell at various growth fronts, such as the bivalve hinge and the shell's edges.

Conclusion

Provided that NikkomycinZ mainly affects chitin synthesis in molluscs, the presented data suggest that the mollusc chitin synthase fulfils an important enzymatic role in the coordinated formation of larval bivalve shells. It can be speculated that chitin synthesis bears the potential to contribute via signal transduction pathways to the implementation of hierarchical patterns into chitin mineral-composites such as prismatic, nacre, and crossed-lamellar shell types.