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LSSS 2016-2017


Life Sciences Seminar Series


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Petra Schwille

Max-Planck-Institute of Biochemistry, Department of Cellular and Molecular Biophysics, Martinsried, Germany

How minimal could life be?

Selected Publications

Control of lipid domain organization by a biomimetic contractile actomyosin cortex.Vogel SK, Greiss F, Khmelinskaia A, Schwille P
Elife 2017 May 2; 6


The cell membrane is a heterogeneously organized composite with lipid-protein micro-domains. The contractile actin cortex may govern the lateral organization of these domains in the cell membrane, yet the underlying mechanisms are not known. We recently reconstituted minimal actin cortices (MACs) (Vogel et al., 2013b) and here advanced our assay to investigate effects of rearranging actin filaments on the lateral membrane organization by introducing various phase-separated lipid mono- and bilayers to the MACs. The addition of actin filaments reorganized membrane domains. We found that the process reached a steady state where line tension and lateral crowding balanced. Moreover, the phase boundary allowed myosin driven actin filament rearrangements to actively move individual lipid domains, often accompanied by their shape change, fusion or splitting. Our findings illustrate how actin cortex remodeling in cells may control dynamic rearrangements of lipids and other molecules inside domains without directly binding to actin filaments.

Coordinated recruitment of Spir actin nucleators and myosin V motors to Rab11 vesicle membranes.Pylypenko O, Welz T, Tittel J, Kollmar M, Chardon F, Malherbe G, Weiss S, Michel CI, Samol-Wolf A, Grasskamp AT, Hume A, Goud B, Baron B, England P, Titus MA, Schwille P, Weidemann T, Houdusse A, Kerkhoff E
Elife 2016 Sep 13; 5


There is growing evidence for a coupling of actin assembly and myosin motor activity in cells. However, mechanisms for recruitment of actin nucleators and motors on specific membrane compartments remain unclear. Here we report how Spir actin nucleators and myosin V motors coordinate their specific membrane recruitment. The myosin V globular tail domain (MyoV-GTD) interacts directly with an evolutionarily conserved Spir sequence motif. We determined crystal structures of MyoVa-GTD bound either to the Spir-2 motif or to Rab11 and show that a Spir-2:MyoVa:Rab11 complex can form. The ternary complex architecture explains how Rab11 vesicles support coordinated F-actin nucleation and myosin force generation for vesicle transport and tethering. New insights are also provided into how myosin activation can be coupled with the generation of actin tracks. Since MyoV binds several Rab GTPases, synchronized nucleator and motor targeting could provide a common mechanism to control force generation and motility in different cellular processes.

DNA Nanostructures on Membranes as Tools for Synthetic Biology.Czogalla A, Franquelim HG, Schwille P
Biophys J 2016 Apr 26; 110(8):1698-707


Over the last decade, functionally designed DNA nanostructures applied to lipid membranes prompted important achievements in the fields of biophysics and synthetic biology. Taking advantage of the universal rules for self-assembly of complementary oligonucleotides, DNA has proven to be an extremely versatile biocompatible building material on the nanoscale. The possibility to chemically integrate functional groups into oligonucleotides, most notably with lipophilic anchors, enabled a widespread usage of DNA as a viable alternative to proteins with respect to functional activity on membranes. As described throughout this review, hybrid DNA-lipid nanostructures can mediate events such as vesicle docking and fusion, or selective partitioning of molecules into phase-separated membranes. Moreover, the major benefit of DNA structural constructs, such as DNA tiles and DNA origami, is the reproducibility and simplicity of their design. DNA nanotechnology can produce functional structures with subnanometer precision and allow for a tight control over their biochemical functionality, e.g., interaction partners. DNA-based membrane nanopores and origami structures able to assemble into two-dimensional networks on top of lipid bilayers are recent examples of the manifold of complex devices that can be achieved. In this review, we will shortly present some of the potentially most relevant avenues and accomplishments of membrane-anchored DNA nanostructures for investigating, engineering, and mimicking lipid membrane-related biophysical processes.

Pattern formation on membranes and its role in bacterial cell division.Kretschmer S, Schwille P
Curr Opin Cell Biol 2016 Feb; 38:52-9


Bacterial cell division is arguably one of the most central processes in biology. Despite the identification of many important molecular players, surprisingly little is yet known about the underlying physicochemical mechanisms. However, self-organized protein patterns play key roles during division of Escherichia coli, where division is initiated by the directed localization of FtsZ to the cell middle by an inhibitor gradient arising from pole-to-pole oscillations of MinCDE proteins. In vitro reconstitution studies have established that both the Min system and FtsZ with its membrane adaptor FtsA form dynamic energy-dependent patterns on membranes. Furthermore, recent in vivo and in vitro approaches have shown that Min patterns display rich dynamics in diverse geometries and respond to the progress of cytokinesis.