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Structure. 1999 Apr 15;7(4):371-9.

Structure of the vault, a ubiquitous celular component.

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  • 1Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology, Crump Institute for Biological Imaging, UCLA School of Medicine, A-324 CIBI, Box 951770, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1770, USA.



The vault is a ubiquitous and highly conserved ribonucleoprotein particle of approximately 13 MDa. This particle has been shown to be upregulated in certain multidrug-resistant cancer cell lines and to share a protein component with the telomerase complex. Determination of the structure of the vault was undertaken to provide a first step towards understanding the role of this cellular component in normal metabolism and perhaps to shed some light on its role in mediating drug resistance.


Over 1300 particle images were combined to calculate an approximately 31 A resolution structure of the vault. Rotational power spectra did not yield a clear symmetry peak, either because of the thin, smooth walls or inherent flexibility of the vault. Although cyclic eightfold (C8) symmetry was imposed, the resulting reconstruction may be partially cylindrically averaged about the eightfold axis. Our results reveal the vault to be a hollow, barrel-like structure with two protruding caps and an invaginated waist.


Although the normal cellular function of the vault is as yet undetermined, the structure of the vault is consistent with either a role in subcellular transport, as previously suggested, or in sequestering macromolecular assemblies.

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