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EMBO J. 2013 Aug 28;32(17):2362-76. doi: 10.1038/emboj.2013.157. Epub 2013 Jul 30.

The mitochondrial calcium uniporter is a multimer that can include a dominant-negative pore-forming subunit.

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Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Padua and CNR Neuroscience Institute, Padua, Italy.


Mitochondrial calcium uniporter (MCU) channel is responsible for Ruthenium Red-sensitive mitochondrial calcium uptake. Here, we demonstrate MCU oligomerization by immunoprecipitation and Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) and characterize a novel protein (MCUb) with two predicted transmembrane domains, 50% sequence similarity and a different expression profile from MCU. Based on computational modelling, MCUb includes critical amino-acid substitutions in the pore region and indeed MCUb does not form a calcium-permeable channel in planar lipid bilayers. In HeLa cells, MCUb is inserted into the oligomer and exerts a dominant-negative effect, reducing the [Ca(2+)]mt increases evoked by agonist stimulation. Accordingly, in vitro co-expression of MCUb with MCU drastically reduces the probability of observing channel activity in planar lipid bilayer experiments. These data unveil the structural complexity of MCU and demonstrate a novel regulatory mechanism, based on the inclusion of dominant-negative subunits in a multimeric channel, that underlies the fine control of the physiologically and pathologically relevant process of mitochondrial calcium homeostasis.

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