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A detailed look at the cytoskeletal architecture of the Giardia lamblia ventral disc


Giardia lamblia is a protistan parasite that infects and colonizes the small intestine of mammals. It is widespread and particularly endemic in the developing world. Here we present a detailed structural study by 3-D negative staining and cryo-electron tomography of a unique Giardia organelle, the ventral disc. The disc is composed of a regular array of microtubules and associated sheets, called microribbons that form a large spiral, held together by a myriad of mostly unknown associated proteins. In a previous study we analyzed by cryo-electron tomography the central microtubule portion (here called disc body) of the ventral disc and found a large portion of microtubule associated inner (MIPs) and outer proteins (MAPs) that render these microtubules hyper-stable. With this follow-up study we expanded our 3-D analysis to different parts of the disc such as the ventral and dorsal areas of the overlap zone, as well as the outer disc margin. There are intrinsic location-specific characteristics in the composition of microtubule-associated proteins between these regions, as well as large differences between the overall architecture of microtubules and microribbons. The lateral packing of microtubule-microribbon complexes varies substantially, and closer packing often comes with contracted lateral tethers that seem to hold the disc together. It appears that the marginal microtubule-microribbon complexes function as outer, laterally contractible lids that may help the cell to clamp onto the intestinal microvilli. Furthermore, we analyzed length, quantity, curvature and distribution between different zones of the disc, which we found to differ from previous publications.

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