Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Chemical Tools for the Study of Lipids and Biology

  • Author(s): Rudd, Andrew
  • Advisor(s): Devaraj, Neal K
  • et al.

This dissertation will first explore methods to selectively direct proteins to phospholipid membranes. The natural mechanisms that tether proteins to membranes are typically complex, requiring multiple steps and accessory components. It would be advantageous to develop simplified methods to direct proteins of interest to phospholipid membranes in a single step. We have developed a modular method for membrane localization of proteins by using chemically modified phospholipid anchors capable of covalent attachment to O6-methylguanine DNA methyltransferase (SNAP-tag) fusion proteins. We demonstrate that photocaged lipid precursors enable light-triggered spatial and temporal control over protein localization. The anchoring system is compatible with cell-free expression, allowing for genetic targeting of proteins to lipid membranes of giant unilamellar vesicles. This technique can be used to control membrane curvature effects, similar to what has been previously observed with certain membrane-bound proteins. This work addresses a current need in synthetic biology for simplified and robust methods to control membrane localization of expressed proteins and shows promise as a general tool for protein targeting to lipid vesicles and cellular membranes.

In the second investigation, this dissertation will discuss a new method for the nonenzymatic remodeling of lipid membranes. Cell membranes have a vast repertoire of phospholipid species whose structures can be dynamically modified by enzymatic remodeling of acyl chains and polar head groups. Lipid remodeling plays important roles in membrane biology and dysregulation can lead to disease. Although there have been tremendous advances in creating artificial membranes to model the properties of native membranes, a major obstacle has been developing straightforward methods to mimic lipid membrane remodeling. Stable liposomes are typically kinetically trapped and are not prone to exchanging diacylphospholipids. An approach relies on transthioesterification/acyl shift reactions that occur spontaneously and reversibly between tertiary amides and thioesters. We demonstrate exchange and remodeling of both lipid acyl chains and head groups. Using our synthetic model system we demonstrate the ability of spontaneous phospholipid remodeling to trigger changes in vesicle spatial organization, composition, and morphology as well as recruit proteins that can affect vesicle curvature. Membranes capable of chemically exchanging lipid fragments could be used to help further understand the specific roles of lipid structure remodeling in biological membranes.

In the third section of this dissertation, a novel approach for the in situ synthesis of natural lipids in living cells will be presented. Mammalian cells synthesize thousands of distinct lipids, yet the function of many of these lipid species is unknown. Ceramides, a class of sphingolipid, are implicated in several cell-signaling pathways but poor cell permeability and lack of selectivity in endogenous synthesis pathways have hampered direct study of their effects. Here we report a strategy that overcomes the inherent biological limitations of ceramide delivery by chemoselectively ligating lipid precursors in vivo to yield natural ceramides in a traceless manner. Using this method, we uncovered the apoptotic effects of several ceramide species and observed differences in their apoptotic activity based on acyl-chain saturation. Additionally, we demonstrate spatiotemporally controlled ceramide synthesis in live cells through photoinitiated lipid ligation. Our in situ lipid ligation approach addresses the long-standing problem of lipid-specific delivery and enables the direct study of unique ceramide species in live cells.

Finally, this dissertation will discuss the development of small molecules for the depalmitoylation of proteins in vivo. Post-translational S-palmitoylation plays a central role in protein localization, trafficking, stability, aggregation, and cell signaling. Dysregulation of palmitoylation pathways in cells can alter protein function and is the cause of several diseases. Considering the biological and clinical importance of S-palmitoylation, tools for direct, in vivo modulation of this lipid modification would be extremely valuable. Here, we describe a method for the cleavage of native S-palmitoyl groups from proteins in living cells. Using a cell permeable, cysteine-functionalized amphiphile, we demonstrate the direct depalmitoylation of cellular proteins. We show that amphiphile-mediated depalmitoylation (AMD) can effectively cleave S-palmitoyl groups from the native GTPase HRas and successfully depalmitoylate mislocalized proteins in an infantile neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (INCL) disease model. AMD enables direct and facile depalmitoylation of proteins in live cells and has potential therapeutic applications for diseases such as INCL, where native protein thioesterase activity is deficient.

Main Content
Current View