Spider silk is protein fibers with extraordinary mechanical properties. Up to now, it is still poorly understood how silk proteins are kept in a soluble form before spinning into fibers and how the protein molecules are aligned orderly to form fibers. Minor ampullate spidroin is one of the seven types of silk proteins, which consists of four types of domains: N-terminal domain, C-terminal domain (CTD), repetitive domain (RP) and linker domain (LK). Here we report the tertiary structure of CTD and secondary structures of RP and LK in aqueous solution, and their roles in protein stability, solubility and fiber formation. The stability and solubility of individual domains are dramatically different and can be explained by their distinct structures. For the tri-domain miniature fibroin, RP-LK-CTDMi, the three domains have no or weak interactions with one another at low protein concentrations (<1 mg/ml). The CTD in RP-LK-CTDMi is very stable and soluble, but it cannot stabilize the entire protein against chemical and thermal denaturation while it can keep the entire tri-domain in a highly water-soluble state. In the presence of shear force, protein aggregation is greatly accelerated and the aggregation rate is determined by the stability of folded domains and solubility of the disordered domains. Only the tri-domain RP-LK-CTDMi could form silk-like fibers, indicating that all three domains play distinct roles in fiber formation: LK as a nucleation site for assembly of protein molecules, RP for assistance of the assembly and CTD for regulating alignment of the assembled molecules.
A fundamental challenge in engineering biologically inspired materials and systems is the identification of molecular structures that define fundamental building blocks. Here, we report a systematic study of the effect of the energy of chemical bonds on the mechanical properties of molecular structures, specifically, their strength and robustness. By considering a simple model system of an assembly of bonds in a cluster, we demonstrate that weak bonding, as found for example in H-bonds, results in a highly cooperative behaviour where clusters of bonds operate synergistically to form relatively strong molecular clusters. The cooperative effect of bonding results in an enhanced robustness since the drop of strength owing to the loss of a bond in a larger cluster only results in a marginal reduction of the strength. Strong bonding, as found in covalent interactions such as disulphide bonds or in the backbone of proteins, results in a larger mechanical strength. However, the ability for bonds to interact cooperatively is lost, and, as a result, the overall robustness is lower since the mechanical strength hinges on individual bonds rather than a cluster of bonds. The systematic analysis presented here provides general insight into the interplay of bond energy, robustness and other geometric parameters such as bond spacing. We conclude our analysis with a correlation of structural data of natural protein structures, which confirms the conclusions derived from our study.
molecular mechanics; strength; robustness; failure; deformation; materiomics
Proteins form the basis of a wide range of biological materials such as hair, skin, bone, spider silk, or cells, which play an important role in providing key functions to biological systems. The focus of this article is to discuss how protein materials are capable of balancing multiple, seemingly incompatible properties such as strength, robustness, and adaptability. To illustrate this, we review bottom-up materiomics studies focused on the mechanical behavior of protein materials at multiple scales, from nano to macro. We focus on alpha-helix based intermediate filament proteins as a model system to explain why the utilization of hierarchical structural features is vital to their ability to combine strength, robustness, and adaptability. Experimental studies demonstrating the activation of angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels, are presented as an example of how adaptability of structure in biological tissue is achieved through changes in gene expression that result in an altered material structure. We analyze the concepts in light of the universality and diversity of the structural makeup of protein materials and discuss the findings in the context of potential fundamental evolutionary principles that control their nanoscale structure. We conclude with a discussion of multiscale science in biology and de novo materials design.
Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome (HGPS) is a premature aging syndrome caused by the expression and accumulation of a mutant form of lamin A, Δ50 lamin A. As a component of the cell's nucleoskeleton, lamin A plays an important role in the mechanical stabilization of the nuclear envelope and in other nuclear functions. It is largely unknown how the characteristic 50 amino acid deletion affects the conformation of the mostly intrinsically disordered tail domain of lamin A. Here we perform replica exchange molecular dynamics simulations of the tail domain and determine an ensemble of semi-stable structures. Based on these structures we show that the ZMPSTE 24 cleavage site on the precursor form of the lamin A tail domain orients itself in such a way as to facilitate cleavage during the maturation process. We confirm our simulated structures by comparing the thermodynamic properties of the ensemble structures to in vitro stability measurements. Using this combination of techniques, we compare the size, heterogeneity of size, thermodynamic stability of the Ig-fold, as well as the mechanisms of force-induced denaturation. Our data shows that the Δ50 lamin A tail domain is more compact and displays less heterogeneity than the mature lamin A tail domain. Altogether these results suggest that the altered structure and stability of the tail domain can explain changed protein-protein and protein-DNA interactions and may represent an etiology of the disease. Also, this study provides the first molecular structure(s) of the lamin A tail domain, which is confirmed by thermodynamic tests.
Laminopathy; structure; mechanics; protein stability; nuclear mechanics
During the lifetime of a flying insect, its wings are subjected to mechanical forces and deformations for millions of cycles. Defects in the micrometre thin membranes or veins may reduce the insect’s flight performance. How do insects prevent crack related material failure in their wings and what role does the characteristic vein pattern play? Fracture toughness is a parameter, which characterises a material’s resistance to crack propagation. Our results show that, compared to other body parts, the hind wing membrane of the migratory locust S. gregaria itself is not exceptionally tough (1.04±0.25 MPa√m). However, the cross veins increase the wing’s toughness by 50% by acting as barriers to crack propagation. Using fracture mechanics, we show that the morphological spacing of most wing veins matches the critical crack length of the material (1132 µm). This finding directly demonstrates how the biomechanical properties and the morphology of locust wings are functionally correlated in locusts, providing a mechanically ‘optimal’ solution with high toughness and low weight. The vein pattern found in insect wings thus might inspire the design of more durable and lightweight artificial ‘venous’ wings for micro-air-vehicles. Using the vein spacing as indicator, our approach might also provide a basis to estimate the wing properties of endangered or extinct insect species.
Mammalian appendages such as hair, quill and wool have a unique structure composed of a cuticle, a cortex and a medulla. The cortex, responsible for the mechanical properties of the fibers, is an assemblage of spindle-shaped keratinized cells bound together by a lipid/protein sandwich called the cell membrane complex. Each cell is itself an assembly of macrofibrils around 300 nm in diameter that are paracrystalline arrays of keratin intermediate filaments embedded in a sulfur-rich protein matrix. Each macrofibril is also attached to its neighbors by a cell membrane complex. In this study, we combined atomic force microscopy based nano-indentation with peak-force imaging to study the nanomechanical properties of macrofibrils perpendicular to their axis. For indentation depths in the 200 to 500 nm range we observed a decrease of the dynamic elastic modulus at 1 Hz with increasing depth. This yielded an estimate of 1.6GPa for the lateral modulus at 1 Hz of porcupine quill’s macrofibrils. Using the same data we also estimated the dynamic elastic modulus at 1 Hz of the cell membrane complex surrounding each macrofibril, i.e., 13GPa. A similar estimate was obtained independently through elastic maps of the macrofibrils surface obtained in peak-force mode at 1 kHz. Furthermore, the macrofibrillar texture of the cortical cells was clearly identified on the elasticity maps, with the boundaries between macrofibrils being 40–50% stiffer than the macrofibrils themselves. Elasticity maps after indentation also revealed a local increase in dynamic elastic modulus over time indicative of a relaxation induced strain hardening that could be explained in term of a α-helix to β-sheet transition within the macrofibrils.
The slip-flow and heat transfer of a non-Newtonian nanofluid in a microtube is theoretically studied. The power-law rheology is adopted to describe the non-Newtonian characteristics of the flow, in which the fluid consistency coefficient and the flow behavior index depend on the nanoparticle volume fraction. The velocity profile, volumetric flow rate and local Nusselt number are calculated for different values of nanoparticle volume fraction and slip length. The results show that the influence of nanoparticle volume fraction on the flow of the nanofluid depends on the pressure gradient, which is quite different from that of the Newtonian nanofluid. Increase of the nanoparticle volume fraction has the effect to impede the flow at a small pressure gradient, but it changes to facilitate the flow when the pressure gradient is large enough. This remarkable phenomenon is observed when the tube radius shrinks to micrometer scale. On the other hand, we find that increase of the slip length always results in larger flow rate of the nanofluid. Furthermore, the heat transfer rate of the nanofluid in the microtube can be enhanced due to the non-Newtonian rheology and slip boundary effects. The thermally fully developed heat transfer rate under constant wall temperature and constant heat flux boundary conditions is also compared.
Spider silks display generally strong mechanical properties, even if differences between species and within the same species can be observed. While many different types of silks have been tested, the mechanical properties of stalks of silk taken from the egg sac of the cave spider Meta menardi have not yet been analyzed. Meta menardi has recently been chosen as the “European spider of the year 2012”, from the European Society of Arachnology. Here we report a study where silk stalks were collected directly from several caves in the north-west of Italy. Field emission scanning electron microscope (FESEM) images showed that stalks are made up of a large number of threads, each of them with diameter of 6.03±0.58 µm. The stalks were strained at the constant rate of 2 mm/min, using a tensile testing machine. The observed maximum stress, strain and toughness modulus, defined as the area under the stress-strain curve, are 0.64 GPa, 751% and 130.7 MJ/m3, respectively. To the best of our knowledge, such an observed huge elongation has never been reported for egg sac silk stalks and suggests a huge unrolling microscopic mechanism of the macroscopic stalk that, as a continuation of the protective egg sac, is expected to be composed by fibres very densely and randomly packed. The Weibull statistics was used to analyze the results from mechanical testing, and an average value of Weibull modulus (m) is deduced to be in the range of 1.5–1.8 with a Weibull scale parameter (σ0) in the range of 0.33–0.41 GPa, showing a high coefficient of correlation (R2 = 0.97).
Spider silk is a self-assembling biopolymer that outperforms most known materials in terms of its mechanical performance, despite its underlying weak chemical bonding based on H-bonds. While experimental studies have shown that the molecular structure of silk proteins has a direct influence on the stiffness, toughness and failure strength of silk, no molecular-level analysis of the nanostructure and associated mechanical properties of silk assemblies have been reported. Here, we report atomic-level structures of MaSp1 and MaSp2 proteins from the Nephila clavipes spider dragline silk sequence, obtained using replica exchange molecular dynamics, and subject these structures to mechanical loading for a detailed nanomechanical analysis. The structural analysis reveals that poly-alanine regions in silk predominantly form distinct and orderly beta-sheet crystal domains, while disorderly regions are formed by glycine-rich repeats that consist of 31-helix type structures and beta-turns. Our structural predictions are validated against experimental data based on dihedral angle pair calculations presented in Ramachandran plots, alpha-carbon atomic distances, as well as secondary structure content. Mechanical shearing simulations on selected structures illustrate that the nanoscale behaviour of silk protein assemblies is controlled by the distinctly different secondary structure content and hydrogen bonding in the crystalline and semi-amorphous regions. Both structural and mechanical characterization results show excellent agreement with available experimental evidence. Our findings set the stage for extensive atomistic investigations of silk, which may contribute towards an improved understanding of the source of the strength and toughness of this biological superfibre.
biological material; molecular modelling; materiomics; spider silk; deformation; failure
Materials in biology span all the scales from Angstroms to meters and typically consist of complex hierarchical assemblies of simple building blocks. Here we describe an application of category theory to describe structural and resulting functional properties of biological protein materials by developing so-called ologs. An olog is like a “concept web” or “semantic network” except that it follows a rigorous mathematical formulation based on category theory. This key difference ensures that an olog is unambiguous, highly adaptable to evolution and change, and suitable for sharing concepts with other olog. We consider simple cases of beta-helical and amyloid-like protein filaments subjected to axial extension and develop an olog representation of their structural and resulting mechanical properties. We also construct a representation of a social network in which people send text-messages to their nearest neighbors and act as a team to perform a task. We show that the olog for the protein and the olog for the social network feature identical category-theoretic representations, and we proceed to precisely explicate the analogy or isomorphism between them. The examples presented here demonstrate that the intrinsic nature of a complex system, which in particular includes a precise relationship between structure and function at different hierarchical levels, can be effectively represented by an olog. This, in turn, allows for comparative studies between disparate materials or fields of application, and results in novel approaches to derive functionality in the design of de novo hierarchical systems. We discuss opportunities and challenges associated with the description of complex biological materials by using ologs as a powerful tool for analysis and design in the context of materiomics, and we present the potential impact of this approach for engineering, life sciences, and medicine.
Notch receptors are core components of the Notch signaling pathway and play a central role in cell fate decisions during development as well as tissue homeostasis. Upon ligand binding, Notch is sequentially cleaved at the S2 site by an ADAM protease and at the S3 site by the γ-secretase complex. Recent X-ray structures of the negative regulatory region (NRR) of the Notch receptor reveal an auto-inhibited fold where three protective Lin12/Notch repeats (LNR) of the NRR shield the S2 cleavage site housed in the heterodimerization (HD) domain. One of the models explaining how ligand binding drives the NRR conformation from a protease-resistant state to a protease-sensitive one invokes a mechanical force exerted on the NRR upon ligand endocytosis. Here, we combined physics-based atomistic simulations and topology-based coarse-grained modeling to investigate the intrinsic and force-induced folding and unfolding mechanisms of the human Notch1 NRR. The simulations support that external force applied to the termini of the NRR disengages the LNR modules from the heterodimerization (HD) domain in a well-defined, largely sequential manner. Importantly, the mechanical force can further drive local unfolding of the HD domain in a functionally relevant fashion that would provide full proteolytic access to the S2 site prior to heterodimer disassociation. We further analyzed local structural features, intrinsic folding free energy surfaces, and correlated motions of the HD domain. The results are consistent with a model in which the HD domain possesses inherent mechanosensing characteristics that could be utilized during Notch activation. This potential role of the HD domain in ligand-dependent Notch activation may have implications for understanding normal and aberrant Notch signaling.
Mineralized biological materials such as bone, sea sponges or diatoms provide load-bearing and armor functions and universally feature structural hierarchies from nano to macro. Here we report a systematic investigation of the effect of hierarchical structures on toughness and defect-tolerance based on a single and mechanically inferior brittle base material, silica, using a bottom-up approach rooted in atomistic modeling. Our analysis reveals drastic changes in the material crack-propagation resistance (R-curve) solely due to the introduction of hierarchical structures that also result in a vastly increased toughness and defect-tolerance, enabling stable crack propagation over an extensive range of crack sizes. Over a range of up to four hierarchy levels, we find an exponential increase in the defect-tolerance approaching hundred micrometers without introducing additional mechanisms or materials. This presents a significant departure from the defect-tolerance of the base material, silica, which is brittle and highly sensitive even to extremely small nanometer-scale defects.
Collagen, an essential building block of connective tissues, possesses useful mechanical properties due to its hierarchical structure. However, little is known about the mechanical properties of collagen fibril, an intermediate structure between the collagen molecule and connective tissue. Here, we report the results of systematic molecular dynamics simulations to probe the mechanical response of initially unflawed finite size collagen fibrils subjected to uniaxial tension. The observed deformation mechanisms, associated with rupture and sliding of tropocollagen molecules, are strongly influenced by fibril length, width and cross-linking density. Fibrils containing more than approximately 10 molecules along their length and across their width behave as representative volume elements and exhibit brittle fracture. Shorter fibrils experience a more graceful ductile-like failure. An analytical model is constructed and the results of the molecular modelling are used to find curve-fitted expressions for yield stress, yield strain and fracture strain as functions of fibril structural parameters. Our results for the first time elucidate the size dependence of mechanical failure properties of collagen fibrils. The associated molecular deformation mechanisms allow the full power of traditional material and structural engineering theory to be applied to our understanding of the normal and pathological mechanical behaviours of collagenous tissues under load.
collagen mechanics; collagen fibril; mesoscopic model; failure micromechanism; size effect
Fabrication of superhydrophobic surfaces has attracted much interest in the past decade. The fabrication methods that have been studied are chemical vapour deposition, the sol-gel method, etching technique, electrochemical deposition, the layer-by-layer deposition, and so on. Simple and inexpensive methods for manufacturing environmentally stable superhydrophobic surfaces have also been proposed lately. However, work referring to the influence of special structures on the wettability, such as hierarchical ZnO nanostructures, is rare.
This study presents a simple and reproducible method to fabricate a superhydrophobic surface with micro-scale roughness based on zinc oxide (ZnO) hierarchical structure, which is grown by the hydrothermal method with an alkaline aqueous solution. Coral-like structures of ZnO were fabricated on a glass substrate with a micro-scale roughness, while the antennas of the coral formed the nano-scale roughness. The fresh ZnO films exhibited excellent superhydrophilicity (the apparent contact angle for water droplet was about 0°), while the ability to be wet could be changed to superhydrophobicity after spin-coating Teflon (the apparent contact angle greater than 168°). The procedure reported here can be applied to substrates consisting of other materials and having various shapes.
The new process is convenient and environmentally friendly compared to conventional methods. Furthermore, the hierarchical structure generates the extraordinary solid/gas/liquid three-phase contact interface, which is the essential characteristic for a superhydrophobic surface.
The fact that biological tissues are stable over prolonged periods of time while individual receptor-ligand bonds only have limited lifetime underscores the critical importance of cooperative behaviors of multiple molecular bonds, in particular the competition between the rate of rupture of closed bonds (death rate) and the rate of rebinding of open bonds (birth rate) in a bond cluster. We have recently shown that soft matrices can greatly increase the death rate in a bond cluster by inducing severe stress concentration near the adhesion edges. In the present paper, we report a more striking effect that, irrespective of stress concentration, soft matrices also suppress the birth rate in a bond cluster by increasing the local separation distance between open bonds. This is shown by theoretical analysis as well as Monte Carlo simulations based on a stochastic-elasticity model in which stochastic descriptions of molecular bonds and elastic descriptions of interfacial force/separation are unified in a single modeling framework. Our findings not only are important for understanding the role of elastic matrices in cell adhesion, but also have general implications on adhesion between soft materials.
Intermediate filaments (IFs) assembled in vitro from recombinantly expressed proteins have a diameter of 8–12 nm and can reach several micrometers in length. IFs assemble from a soluble pool of subunits, tetramers in the case of vimentin. Upon salt addition, the subunits form first unit length filaments (ULFs) within seconds and then assembly proceeds further by end-to-end fusion of ULFs and short filaments. So far, IF subunits have mainly been observed by electron microscopy of glycerol sprayed and rotary metal shadowed specimens. Due to the shear forces during spraying the IF subunits appear generally as straight thin rods. In this study, we used atomic force microscopy (AFM), cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) combined with molecular modeling to investigate the conformation of the subunits of vimentin, desmin and keratin K5/K14 IFs in various conditions. Due to their anisotropic shape the subunits are difficult to image at high resolution by cryo-EM. In order to enhance contrast we used a cryo-negative staining approach. The subunits were clearly identified as thin, slightly curved rods. However the staining agent also forced the subunits to aggregate into two-dimensional networks of dot-like structures. To test this conformational change further, we imaged dried unfixed subunits on mica by AFM revealing a mixture of extended and dot-like conformations. The use of divalent ions such as calcium and magnesium, as well as glutaraldehyde exposure favored compact conformations over elongated ones. These experimental results as well as coarse-grained molecular dynamics simulations of a vimentin tetramer highlight the plasticity of IF subunits.
Biological function relies on the fact that biomolecules can switch between different conformations and aggregation states. Such transitions involve a rearrangement of parts of the biomolecules involved that act as dynamic domains. The reliable identification of such domains is thus a key problem in biophysics. In this work we present a method to identify semi-rigid domains based on dynamical data that can be obtained from molecular dynamics simulations or experiments. To this end the average inter-atomic distance-deviations are computed. The resulting matrix is then clustered by a constrained quadratic optimization problem. The reliability and performance of the method are demonstrated for two artificial peptides. Furthermore we correlate the mechanical properties with biological malfunction in three variants of amyloidogenic transthyretin protein, where the method reveals that a pathological mutation destabilizes the natural dimer structure of the protein. Finally the method is used to identify functional domains of the GroEL-GroES chaperone, thus illustrating the efficiency of the method for large biomolecular machines.
The assembly of subunits in protein oligomers is an important topic to study as a vast number of proteins exists as stable or transient oligomer and because it is a mechanism used by some protein oligomers for killing cells (e.g., perforin from the human immune system, pore-forming toxins from bacteria, phage, amoeba, protein misfolding diseases, etc.). Only a few of the amino acids that constitute a protein oligomer seem to regulate the capacity of the protein to assemble (to form interfaces), and some of these amino acids are localized at the interfaces that link the different chains. The identification of the residues of these interfaces is rather difficult. We have developed a series of programs, under the common name of Gemini, that can select the subset of the residues that is involved in the interfaces of a protein oligomer of known atomic structure, and generate a 2D interaction network (or graph) of the subset. The graphs generated for several oligomers demonstrate the accuracy of the selection of subsets that are involved in the geometrical and the chemical properties of interfaces. The results of the Gemini programs are in good agreement with those of similar programs with an advantage that Gemini programs can perform the residue selection much more rapidly. Moreover, Gemini programs can also perform on a single protein oligomer without the need of comparison partners. The graphs are extremely useful for comparative studies that would help in addressing questions not only on the sequence specificity of protein interfaces but also on the mechanism of the assembly of unrelated protein oligomers.
Macromolecular surfaces are fundamental representations of their three-dimensional geometric shape. Accurate calculation of protein surfaces is of critical importance in the protein structural and functional studies including ligand-protein docking and virtual screening. In contrast to analytical or parametric representation of macromolecular surfaces, triangulated mesh surfaces have been proved to be easy to describe, visualize and manipulate by computer programs. Here, we develop a new algorithm of EDTSurf for generating three major macromolecular surfaces of van der Waals surface, solvent-accessible surface and molecular surface, using the technique of fast Euclidean Distance Transform (EDT). The triangulated surfaces are constructed directly from volumetric solids by a Vertex-Connected Marching Cube algorithm that forms triangles from grid points. Compared to the analytical result, the relative error of the surface calculations by EDTSurf is <2–4% depending on the grid resolution, which is 1.5–4 times lower than the methods in the literature; and yet, the algorithm is faster and costs less computer memory than the comparative methods. The improvements in both accuracy and speed of the macromolecular surface determination should make EDTSurf a useful tool for the detailed study of protein docking and structure predictions. Both source code and the executable program of EDTSurf are freely available at http://zhang.bioinformatics.ku.edu/EDTSurf.
Intermediate filaments (IFs), in addition to microtubules and microfilaments, are one of the three major components of the cytoskeleton in eukaryotic cells, playing a vital role in mechanotransduction and in providing mechanical stability to cells. Despite the importance of IF mechanics for cell biology and cell mechanics, the structural basis for their mechanical properties remains unknown. Specifically, our understanding of fundamental filament properties, such as the basis for their great extensibility, stiffening properties, and their exceptional mechanical resilience remains limited. This has prevented us from answering fundamental structure-function relationship questions related to the biomechanical role of intermediate filaments, which is crucial to link structure and function in the protein material's biological context. Here we utilize an atomistic-level model of the human vimentin dimer and tetramer to study their response to mechanical tensile stress, and describe a detailed analysis of the mechanical properties and associated deformation mechanisms. We observe a transition from alpha-helices to beta-sheets with subsequent interdimer sliding under mechanical deformation, which has been inferred previously from experimental results. By upscaling our results we report, for the first time, a quantitative comparison to experimental results of IF nanomechanics, showing good agreement. Through the identification of links between structures and deformation mechanisms at distinct hierarchical levels, we show that the multi-scale structure of IFs is crucial for their characteristic mechanical properties, in particular their ability to undergo severe deformation of ≈300% strain without breaking, facilitated by a cascaded activation of a distinct deformation mechanisms operating at different levels. This process enables IFs to combine disparate properties such as mechanosensitivity, strength and deformability. Our results enable a new paradigm in studying biological and mechanical properties of IFs from an atomistic perspective, and lay the foundation to understanding how properties of individual protein molecules can have profound effects at larger length-scales.
Alpha-helix based protein networks as they appear in intermediate filaments in the cell’s cytoskeleton and the nuclear membrane robustly withstand large deformation of up to several hundred percent strain, despite the presence of structural imperfections or flaws. This performance is not achieved by most synthetic materials, which typically fail at much smaller deformation and show a great sensitivity to the existence of structural flaws. Here we report a series of molecular dynamics simulations with a simple coarse-grained multi-scale model of alpha-helical protein domains, explaining the structural and mechanistic basis for this observed behavior. We find that the characteristic properties of alpha-helix based protein networks are due to the particular nanomechanical properties of their protein constituents, enabling the formation of large dissipative yield regions around structural flaws, effectively protecting the protein network against catastrophic failure. We show that the key for these self protecting properties is a geometric transformation of the crack shape that significantly reduces the stress concentration at corners. Specifically, our analysis demonstrates that the failure strain of alpha-helix based protein networks is insensitive to the presence of structural flaws in the protein network, only marginally affecting their overall strength. Our findings may help to explain the ability of cells to undergo large deformation without catastrophic failure while providing significant mechanical resistance.
An implicit finite element model was developed to analyze the deformation behavior of low carbon steel during phase transformation. The finite element model was coupled hierarchically with a phase field model that could simulate the kinetics and micro-structural evolution during the austenite-to-ferrite transformation of low carbon steel. Thermo-elastic-plastic constitutive equations for each phase were adopted to confirm the transformation plasticity due to the weaker phase yielding that was proposed by Greenwood and Johnson. From the simulations under various possible plastic properties of each phase, a more quantitative understanding of the origin of transformation plasticity was attempted by a comparison with the experimental observation.
The structure and function of the PTEN phosphatase is investigated by studying its membrane affinity and localization on in-plane fluid, thermally disordered synthetic membrane models. The membrane association of the protein depends strongly on membrane composition, where phosphatidylserine (PS) and phosphatidylinositol diphosphate (PI(4,5)P2) act pronouncedly synergistic in pulling the enzyme to the membrane surface. The equilibrium dissociation constants for the binding of wild type (wt) PTEN to PS and PI(4,5)P2 were determined to be Kd∼12 µM and 0.4 µM, respectively, and Kd∼50 nM if both lipids are present. Membrane affinities depend critically on membrane fluidity, which suggests multiple binding sites on the protein for PI(4,5)P2. The PTEN mutations C124S and H93R show binding affinities that deviate strongly from those measured for the wt protein. Both mutants bind PS more strongly than wt PTEN. While C124S PTEN has at least the same affinity to PI(4,5)P2 and an increased apparent affinity to PI(3,4,5)P3, due to its lack of catalytic activity, H93R PTEN shows a decreased affinity to PI(4,5)P2 and no synergy in its binding with PS and PI(4,5)P2. Neutron reflection measurements show that the PTEN phosphatase “scoots" along the membrane surface (penetration <5 Å) but binds the membrane tightly with its two major domains, the C2 and phosphatase domains, as suggested by the crystal structure. The regulatory C-terminal tail is most likely displaced from the membrane and organized on the far side of the protein, ∼60 Å away from the bilayer surface, in a rather compact structure. The combination of binding studies and neutron reflection allows us to distinguish between PTEN mutant proteins and ultimately may identify the structural features required for membrane binding and activation of PTEN.
Raspy crickets (Orthoptera: Gryllacrididae) are unique among the orthopterans in producing silk, which is used to build shelters. This work studied the material composition and the fabrication of cricket silk for the first time. We examined silk-webs produced in captivity, which comprised cylindrical fibers and flat films. Spectra obtained from micro-Raman experiments indicated that the silk is composed of protein, primarily in a beta-sheet conformation, and that fibers and films are almost identical in terms of amino acid composition and secondary structure. The primary sequences of four silk proteins were identified through a mass spectrometry/cDNA library approach. The most abundant silk protein was large in size (300 and 220 kDa variants), rich in alanine, glycine and serine, and contained repetitive sequence motifs; these are features which are shared with several known beta-sheet forming silk proteins. Convergent evolution at the molecular level contrasts with development by crickets of a novel mechanism for silk fabrication. After secretion of cricket silk proteins by the labial glands they are fabricated into mature silk by the labium-hypopharynx, which is modified to allow the controlled formation of either fibers or films. Protein folding into beta-sheet structure during silk fabrication is not driven by shear forces, as is reported for other silks.