Theses Doctoral

Mechanical Regulation in Cell Division and in Neurotransmitter Release

Thiyagarajan, Sathish

During their lifecycle, cells must produce forces which play important roles in several subcellular processes. Force-producing components are organized into macromolecular assemblies of proteins that are often dynamic, and are constructed or disassembled in response to various signals. The forces themselves may directly be involved in subcellular mechanics, or they may influence mechanosensing proteins either within or outside these structures. These proteins play different roles: they may ensure the stability of the force-producing structure, or they may send signals to a coupled process. The generation and sensing of subcellular forces is an active research topic, and this thesis focusses on the roles of these forces in two key areas: cell division and neurotransmitter release.
The first part of the thesis deals with the effect of force on cell wall growth regulation during division in the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe, a cigar-shaped, unicellular organism. During cytokinesis, the last stage of cell division in which the cell physically divides into two, a tense cytokinetic ring anchored to the cellular membrane assembles and constricts, accompanied by the inward centripetal growth of new cell wall, called septum, in the wake of the inward-moving membrane. The contour of the septum hole maintains its circularity as it reduces in size—an indication of regulated growth. To characterize the cell wall growth process, we performed image analysis on contours of the leading edge of the septum obtained via fluorescence microscopy in the labs of our collaborators. We quantified the deviations from circularity using the edge roughness. The roughness was spatially correlated, suggestive of regulated growth. We hypothesized that the cell wall growers are mechanosensitive and respond to the force exerted by the ring. A mathematical model based on this hypothesis then showed that this leads to corrections of roughness in a curvature-dependent fashion. Thus, one of the roles of ring tension is to communicate with the mechanosensitive septum growth processes and coordinate growth to ensure the daughter cells have a functional cell wall.
The second part of the thesis deals with how ring tension is produced and sustained, using experimentally measured ultrastructure of the cytokinetic ring itself. Recent super-resolution experiments have revealed that several key proteins of the fission yeast constricting ring are organized into membrane-anchored complexes called nodes. The force producing protein myosin-II in these nodes exerts pulling forces on polymeric actin filaments that are synthesized from polymerizers residing in the nodes. How these forces are marshalled to generate ring tension, and how such an organization maintains its stability is unclear. Using a mathematical model with coarse-grained representations of actin and myosin, we showed that such a node-based organization reproduces previously measured ring tension values. The model explains the origin of experimentally observed bidirectional motion of the nodes in the ring, and showed that turnover of the nodes rescues the ring from inherent contractile instabilities that would be expected when a force-producing structure is made up of small object that effectively attract one another.
Finally, the third part of the thesis deals with the role of forces produced by SNARE proteins at synapses between two neurons during neurotransmission. A key step here is synaptic release, where inside a neuron, membrane-bound compartments called vesicles filled with neurotransmitter fuse with the membrane of the neuron forming a transient fusion pore, and release their contents to the outside of the cell. These neurotransmitter molecules are sensed by another neuron that is physically separate from the neuron in question and this neuron propagates the signal henceforth. Thus, regulation of neurotransmitter release is a key step in neurotransmission. A fusion machinery consisting of several proteins facilitates membrane fusion, and pore nucleation requires the formation of a SNARE protein complex in this machinery, whose role during pore dilation is unclear. Using electrophysiological measurements, our collaborators experimentally measured the statistics of the size of single fusion pores in vitro, and observed that average pore sizes increased with the number of SNARE proteins. Using mathematical modeling, we showed that this effect was due to an entropic crowding force that expands the pore and increases with the number of SNAREs, and counteracts the energy barrier to fusion pore expansion.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Sahin, Ozgur
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 19, 2018