Assembly Kinetics of Vimentin Tetramers to Unit-Length Filaments: A Stopped-Flow Study
Authors: Mücke N, Kämmerer L, Winheim S, Kirmse R, Krieger J, Mildenberger M, Baßler J, Hurt E, Goldmann WH, Aebi U, Toth K, Langowski J, Herrmann H
CellNetworks People: Hurt Ed
Journal: Biophys J. 2018 May 22;114(10):2408-2418. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2018.04.032

Intermediate filaments (IFs) are principal components of the cytoskeleton, a dynamic integrated system of structural proteins that provides the functional architecture of metazoan cells. They are major contributors to the elasticity of cells and tissues due to their high mechanical stability and intrinsic flexibility. The basic building block for the assembly of IFs is a rod-like, 60-nm-long tetrameric complex made from two antiparallel, half-staggered coiled coils. In low ionic strength, tetramers form stable complexes that rapidly assemble into filaments upon raising the ionic strength. The first assembly products, "frozen" by instantaneous chemical fixation and viewed by electron microscopy, are 60-nm-long "unit-length" filaments (ULFs) that apparently form by lateral in-register association of tetramers. ULFs are the active elements of IF growth, undergoing longitudinal end-to-end annealing with one another and with growing filaments. Originally, we have employed quantitative time-lapse atomic force and electron microscopy to analyze the kinetics of vimentin-filament assembly starting from a few seconds to several hours. To obtain detailed quantitative insight into the productive reactions that drive ULF formation, we now introduce a "stopped-flow" approach in combination with static light-scattering measurements. Thereby, we determine the basic rate constants for lateral assembly of tetramers to ULFs. Processing of the recorded data by a global fitting procedure enables us to describe the hierarchical steps of IF formation. Specifically, we propose that tetramers are consumed within milliseconds to yield octamers that are obligatory intermediates toward ULF formation. Although the interaction of tetramers is diffusion controlled, it is strongly driven by their geometry to mediate effective subunit targeting. Importantly, our model conclusively reflects the previously described occurrence of polymorphic ULF and mature filaments in terms of their number of tetramers per cross section.