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J Cell Sci. 2003 Oct 15;116(Pt 20):4087-94.

Structural basis of urothelial permeability barrier function as revealed by Cryo-EM studies of the 16 nm uroplakin particle.

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Structural Biology Program, Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, New York, NY 10016, USA.


The apical surface of terminally differentiated mammalian urothelial umbrella cells is covered by numerous plaques consisting of two-dimensional (2D) crystals of hexagonally packed 16 nm uroplakin particles, and functions as a remarkable permeability barrier. To determine the structural basis of this barrier function, we generated, by electron cryo microscopy, a projection map of the isolated mouse urothelial plaques at 7 A and a 3D structure at 10 A resolution. Our results indicate that each 16 nm particle has a central 6 nm lipid-filled 'hole' surrounded by 6 inverted U-shaped subunits, each consisting of an inner and an outer subdomain connected via a distal joint. The transmembrane portion of each subdomain can fit about 5 helices. This finding, coupled with our STEM and EM data, suggests that uroplakin pairs Ia/II and Ib/III are associated with the inner and outer subdomains, respectively. Since the inner subdomains interconnect to form a ring, which can potentially segregate the lipids of the central hole from those outside, the 2D crystalline uroplakin network may impose an organized state and a severely restricted freedom of movement on the lipid components, thus reducing membrane fluidity and contributing to the barrier function of urothelial plaques. Our finding that distinct uroplakin substructures are in contact with the cytoplasmic and exoplasmic leaflets of the plaque suggests that the two leaflets may have different lipid composition and contribute asymmetrically to the barrier function. We propose that the crystalline lattice structure of uroplakin, through its interactions with specialized lipids, plays a major role in the remarkable permeability barrier function of urothelial apical surface. Our results also have implications for the transmembrane signal transduction in urothelial cells as induced by the binding of uropathogenic E. coli to its uroplakin receptor.

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