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J Mol Biol. 2007 Jun 1;369(2):413-8. Epub 2007 Mar 30.

Supramolecular assembly of VDAC in native mitochondrial outer membranes.

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Institut Curie, UMR168-CNRS, 26 Rue d'Ulm, 75248 Paris Cedex 5, France.


The voltage-dependent anion channel (VDAC) is the most abundant protein in the mitochondrial outer membrane (MOM). Due to its localization, VDAC is involved in a wide range of processes, such as passage of ATP out of mitochondria, and particularly plays a central role in apoptosis. Importantly, the assembly of VDAC provides interaction with a wide range of proteins, some implying oligomerization. However, many questions remain as to the VDAC structure, its supramolecular assembly, packing density, and oligomerization in the MOM is unknown. Here we report the so far highest resolution view of VDAC and its native supramolecular assembly. We have studied yeast MOM by high-resolution atomic force microscopy (AFM) in physiological buffer and found VDAC in two distinct types of membrane domains. We found regions where VDAC was packed at high density (approximately 80%), rendering the membrane a voltage-dependent molecular sieve. In other domains, VDAC has a low surface density (approximately 20%) and the pore assembly ranges from single molecules to groups of up to 20. We assume that these groups are mobile in the lipid bilayer and allow association and dissociation with the large assemblies. VDAC has no preferred oligomeric state and no long-range order was observed in densely packed domains. High-resolution topographs show an eye-shaped VDAC with 3.8 nm x 2.7 nm pore dimensions. Based on the observed VDAC structure and the pair correlation function (PCF) analysis of the domain architectures, we propose a simple model that could explain the phase behavior of VDAC, and illustrates the sensitivity of the molecular organization to conditions in the cell, and the possibility for modulation of its assembly. The implication of VDAC in cytochrome c release from the mitochondria during cell apoptosis has made it a target in cancer research.

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