Modern molecular biological approaches have provided enormous insight into a vast array of cell biological mechanisms from polarized cell division to neuronal cell migration, autophagy, neuronal exocytosis and countless others. While many molecular players participating in these processes have been elucidated defining the more mechanistic and structural aspects of these processes has been more difficult. Importantly, these mechanistic insights provide the cellular basis for our understanding of disease and serve as the primary guides for developing therapy. One systemic problem in developing mechanistic insight has been the difficulty in obtaining quantitative data about the organization and stoichiometry of components in many cellular complexes. For example, over a dozen proteins have been documented to localize to the cytomatrix of synaptic active zones, a structural presynaptic feature essential for vesicular neurotransmitter release site from neurons in the brain. Furthermore, proteomic analysis of synaptic active zones suggests that the number of distinct proteins associated with presynaptic release sites is greater than one hundred. Defining the structure and organization of such complex subcellular assemblies is a daunting challenge, but it is essential if we wish to understand the basic cellular process of neurotransmitter release in the brain at a mechanistic level. Here we propose to develop methodology for assessing quantitatively the composition of various components of subcellular assemblies in vivo. Multiple methods for performing such quantitative measurements have previously been described, but none are easy to implement for the analysis of structures in complex multicellular organisms. Herein we propose to create in vivo internal calibration standards that can be used in combination with fluorescent protein fusions to quantify levels of specific proteins present at specific sites in vivo. Specifically, we propose to use GFP-LacI bound to LacO sites integrated in known copy number to specific sites on chromosomes as a calibration curve to quantify the numbers of molecules found in subcellular assemblies in vivo. We propose to develop the system in yeast, transfer the technology to C. elegans, and then apply the technology to characterize the relative and absolute stoichiometry of a half dozen proteins found at presynaptic active zones. The system we propose to develop should be applicable to any molecular genetic model system that can be manipulated using transgenic techniques including mouse and zebrafish, as well as human cell culture.
This grant proposes to develop methodology and tools for a model system that will enable better quantification of components of subcellular assemblies in vivo. Model systems are used in the study of basic cellular processes that underlie human disease. Understanding of cellular mechanisms is a fundamental requirement for designing therapy. The contributions of this model system to understanding disease include the discoveries of several biological processes each of which was recently recognized by a Nobel prize. The first discovery is that of programmed cell death which plays critical roles in cellular responses to stroke. The second is the discovery of the process of RNA interference that is widely recognized as very promising methodology to treat human diseases such as cancer that result from the mis-expression of genes.