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J Mol Biol. 1990 Feb 20;211(4):871-82.

Molecular architecture of the neurofilament. II. Reassembly process of neurofilament L protein in vitro.

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Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Tokyo, Japan.


Reassembly of the neurofilament (NF) in vitro was studied by low-angle rotary shadowing electron microscopy. Various intermediate stages of the reassembly were reconstructed from the smallest molecular mass subunit (NF-L) under controlled reassembly conditions. NF-L in 6 M-urea took the form of spherical particles with a diameter of about 12 nm. NF-L aggregated into rodlets of 70 to 80 nm long in a low-salt solution at alkaline pH. By reducing the pH of the dialyzing solution to 6.6, a pair of rods was formed by association side-by-side. Increasing the temperature of low-salt solutions from 4 degrees C to 35 degrees C did not produce intermediate-sized filaments. The addition of Mg2+ to the dialyzing solution resulted in the formation of short intermediate-sized filaments even at 4 degrees C. Further dialysis of the short intermediate-sized filaments against reassembly solution containing both NaCl and MgCl2 at 37 degrees C failed to elongate them into longer filaments, suggesting that annealing does not contribute to the elongation of neurofilaments. Different roles for Mg+ and NaCl in neurofilament reassembly were indicated. While Mg2+ strengthened the lateral association between 70 to 80 nm rods, NaCl appeared to promote the end-to-end association of filaments preferentially. Longer filaments were formed by increasing the NaCl concentration. By dialyzing NF-L against a buffer containing 50 mM-NaCl in the absence of Mg2+, unraveled filaments were formed. The many unraveled filaments were composed of four 8 nm wide filaments, which have been called the subfilament or the protofibril. Time-course experiments of the reassembly were performed in the absence of Mg2+, in which condition the rate of neurofilament reassembly appeared to be reduced. Star-like clusters, about four protofibrils joined together at one end, were suggested to be the initial stage of the intermediate-sized filament formation. The following two-step elongation mechanism of neurofilaments was deduced from these results. The pairs of rods were added to the ends of the protofibrils of neurofilaments, and after all four protofibrils were elongated they were then packed into neurofilaments. Distribution of larger molecular mass subunits, NF-M and NF-H, was studied. Addition of NF-M or NF-H to NF-L did not change the assembly properties of neurofilaments. Unraveled filaments reconstituted from NF-L plus either NF-M or NF-H indicated that NF-M and NF-H are incorporated evenly into each protofibril.

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