On the function of chitin synthase extracellular domains in biomineralization

Molluscs with various shell architectures evolved around 542-525 million years ago, as part of a larger phenomenon related to the diversification of metazoan phyla. Molluscs deposit minerals in a chitin matrix. The mollusc chitin is synthesized by transmembrane enzymes that contain several unique extracellular domains. Here we investigate the assembly mechanism of the chitin synthase Ar-CS1 via its extracellular domain ArCS1_E22. The corresponding transmembrane protein ArCS1_E22TM accumulates in membrane fractions of the expression host Dictyostelium discoideum. Soluble recombinant ArCS1_E22 proteins can be purified as monomers only at basic pH. According to confocal fluorescence microscopy experiments, immunolabeled ArCS1_E22 proteins adsorb preferably to aragonitic nacre platelets at pH 7.75. At pH 8.2 or pH 9.0 the fluorescence signal is less intense, indicating that protein-mineral interaction is reduced with increasing pH. Furthermore, ArCS1_E22 forms regular nanostructures on cationic substrates as revealed by atomic force microscopy (AFM) experiments on modified mica cleavage planes. These experiments suggest that the extracellular domain ArCS1_E22 is involved in regulating the multiple enzyme activities of Ar-CS1 such as chitin synthesis and myosin movements by interaction with mineral surfaces and eventually by protein assembly. The protein complexes could locally probe the status of mineralization according to pH unless ions and pCO2are balanced with suitable buffer substances. Taking into account that the intact enzyme could act as a force sensor, the results presented here provide further evidence that shell formation is coordinated physiologically with precise adjustment of cellular activities to the structure, topography and stiffness at the mineralizing interface.