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Hum Mol Genet. 2012 Feb 1;21(3):692-710. doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddr503. Epub 2011 Nov 2.

Whirlin interacts with espin and modulates its actin-regulatory function: an insight into the mechanism of Usher syndrome type II.

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  • 1Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Moran Eye Center, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84132, USA.


Whirlin mutations cause retinal degeneration and hearing loss in Usher syndrome type II (USH2) and non-syndromic deafness, DFNB31. Its protein recruits other USH2 causative proteins to form a complex at the periciliary membrane complex in photoreceptors and the ankle link of the stereocilia in hair cells. However, the biological function of this USH2 protein complex is largely unknown. Using a yeast two-hybrid screen, we identified espin, an actin-binding/bundling protein involved in human deafness when defective, as a whirlin-interacting protein. The interaction between these two proteins was confirmed by their coimmunoprecipitation and colocalization in cultured cells. This interaction involves multiple domains of both proteins and only occurs when espin does not bind to actin. Espin was partially colocalized with whirlin in the retina and the inner ear. In whirlin knockout mice, espin expression changed significantly in these two tissues. Further studies found that whirlin increased the mobility of espin and actin at the actin bundles cross-linked by espin and, eventually, affected the dimension of these actin bundles. In whirlin knockout mice, the stereocilia were thickened in inner hair cells. We conclude that the interaction between whirlin and espin and the balance between their expressions are required to maintain the actin bundle network in photoreceptors and hair cells. Disruption of this actin bundle network contributes to the pathogenic mechanism of hearing loss and retinal degeneration caused by whirlin and espin mutations. Espin is a component of the USH2 protein complex and could be a candidate gene for Usher syndrome.

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