Ribosome Binding to the Mammalian Endoplasmic Reticulum: A Thesis

Publication Date

December 1991

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology


Endoplasmic Reticulum; Binding Sites; Ribosomes; Academic Dissertations; Dissertations, UMMS


Investigators have been attempting to identify the receptor for ribosomes on the rough endoplasmic reticulum (RER) for almost 20 years, yet the ribosome receptor has remained elusive. Rough microsomal membranes contain endogenous ribosomes bound in at least two types of interactions. Loosely associated ribosomes can be removed by extraction with a high ionic strength solution, but ribosomes that were actively engaged in translocation when the membranes were isolated remain tethered to the membrane by a nascent polypeptide (Adelman et al., 1973). The original assay for the ribosome receptor involved stripping all of the endogenous ribosomes off of intact membranes before adding back a quantitated amount of ribosomes. More recent assays have employed detergent solubilization of the membrane and then reconstitution of the membrane proteins into lipid vesicles before adding back ribosomes. In both cases ribosome binding to its receptor is measured in an assay that does not involve translation or translocation.

We utilized a crosslinking assay to attempt to identify membrane proteins that function as a binding site for ribosomes engaged in protein translocation across the endoplasmic reticulum. In vivo bound ribosomes that remain associated with the membrane after extraction with a high ionic strength solution are likely to be bound to a functional translocation site. The water soluble, membrane impermeable, thiol-cleavable crosslinker 3,3'-dithiobis (sulfosuccinimidylpropionate) was selected to limit reaction to protein domains located on the cytoplasmic face of salt extracted microsomal membrane vesicles. A specific subset of RER proteins was reproducibly crosslinked to the endogenous ribosomes. Immunoblot analysis of the crosslinked products with antibodies raised against signal recognition particle receptor, ribophorin I, and the 35 kD subunit of the signal sequence receptor demonstrated that these translocation components had been crosslinked to the ribosome, but each to a different extent. The most prominent polypeptide among the crosslinked products was a 180 kD protein that had recently been proposed to be a ribosome receptor (Savitz and Meyer, 1990).

RER membrane proteins were reconstituted into liposomes and assayed with radiolabeled ribosomes in an in vitro binding assay to determine whether ribosome binding activity could be ascribed to the 180 kD protein. Differential detergent extraction was used to prepare soluble extracts of microsomal membrane vesicles that either contained or lacked the 180 kD protein, as determined by Coomassie blue staining of a polyacrylamide gel. Liposomes reconstituted from both extracts bound ribosomes with essentially identical affinity. Additional fractionation experiments and functional assays with proteoliposomes demonstrated that the bulk of the ribosome binding activity present in detergent extracts of microsomal membranes could be readily resolved from the 180 kD protein by chromatography. Taken together, the evidence indicates that the 180 kD protein is in the vicinity of membrane bound ribosomes, yet does not correspond to the ribosome receptor.

To continue the investigation of ribosome binding, an assay was designed to characterize ribosome-nascent chain complexes bound to the microsomal membrane during translocation. A series of translocation intermediates consisting of discrete sized nascent chains was prepared by including microsomal membranes in cell-free translations of mRNAs lacking termination codons. Proteinase K was then used as a probe to detect cytoplasmically and lumenally exposed segments of nascent polypeptides undergoing transport. Only those partially translocated nascent chains of 100 amino acids or less were insensitive to protease digestion by externally added protease. It was concluded that the increased protease sensitivity of larger nascent chains is due to the exposure of a segment of the nascent polypeptide on the cytoplasmic face of the membrane. In contrast, shorter nascent polypeptides appear not to have lumenally exposed segments.

Ultimately, a functional assay for the ribosome receptor should include binding studies conducted under physiological conditions. For this purpose, an assay was developed that allowed translation, translocation, and termination of a secretory protein to be monitored with probes designed to independently quantitate translating and non-translating ribosomes. A synchronized wheat-germ translation system was programmed with bovine preprolactin mRNA and aliquots were taken at various time points before and after adding membranes. The samples were then separated into membrane bound and soluble species by centrifugation. RNA was isolated from each supernatant and pellet sample and blotted onto nylon sheets. By probing the dot blots with probes that hybridize with either the 5S RNA of wheat germ ribosomes or the preprolactin transcript, the translating ribosomes could be monitored without the interference of the endogenous canine ribosomes on the membrane. By comparing the total amount of preprolactin transcript that bound to the membrane versus the total amount of wheat germ ribosomes bound to the membrane, it was discovered that the vast majority (>99%) of wheat germ ribosomes that bound to the microsomal membrane were non-translating ribosomes. In later experiments it was found that the non-translating ribosomes did not compete with the translating ribosomes; under all conditions tested, the translating ribosomes had access to translocation sites on the microsomal membrane. One interpretation of this data is that all ribosome binding sites are not identical. It may be that functional sites for translocation are a distinct subclass of total ribosome binding sites. Another interpretation is that a ribosome in a nascent chain-SRP complex has a much higher affinity for the ribosome receptor than nontranslating ribosomes or 60S subunits. Perhaps the non-translating ribosome can not compete with ribosomes engaged in translocation. As stated earlier, ribosomes do make at least two kinds of interactions with the microsomal membrane surface. This data may be indicative of those types of interactions.


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