Crescentin is a protein
Proteins are biochemical compounds consisting of one or more polypeptides typically folded into a globular or fibrous form, facilitating a biological function. A polypeptide is a single linear polymer chain of amino acids bonded together by peptide bonds between the carboxyl and amino groups of...

 which is a bacterial relative of the intermediate filaments found in eukaryotic cells. Just as tubulins and actin
Actin is a globular, roughly 42-kDa moonlighting protein found in all eukaryotic cells where it may be present at concentrations of over 100 μM. It is also one of the most highly-conserved proteins, differing by no more than 20% in species as diverse as algae and humans...

s, the other major cytoskeletal proteins
The cytoskeleton is a cellular "scaffolding" or "skeleton" contained within a cell's cytoplasm and is made out of protein. The cytoskeleton is present in all cells; it was once thought to be unique to eukaryotes, but recent research has identified the prokaryotic cytoskeleton...

, have prokaryotic homologs
Homology (biology)
Homology forms the basis of organization for comparative biology. In 1843, Richard Owen defined homology as "the same organ in different animals under every variety of form and function". Organs as different as a bat's wing, a seal's flipper, a cat's paw and a human hand have a common underlying...

 in, respectively, the FtsZ
FtsZ is a protein encoded by the ftsZ gene that assembles into a ring at the future site of the septum of bacterial cell division. This is a prokaryotic homologue to the eukaryotic protein tubulin. FtsZ has been named after "Filamenting temperature-sensitive mutant Z". The hypothesis was that cell...

 and MreB
MreB is a protein found in bacteria that has been identified as a homologue of actin, as indicated by similarities in tertiary structure and conservation of active site peptide sequence. The conservation of protein structure suggests the common ancestry of the cytoskeletal elements formed by actin,...

 proteins, intermediate filaments are linked to the crescentin protein.

Role in cell shape

Crescentin was recently discovered in the prokaryote Caulobacter crescentus
Caulobacter crescentus
Caulobacter crescentus is a Gram-negative, oligotrophic bacterium widely distributed in fresh water lakes and streams.Caulobacter is an important model organism for studying the regulation of the cell cycle, asymmetric cell division, and cellular differentiation. Caulobacter daughter cells have...

, an aquatic bacterium which uses its crescent
In art and symbolism, a crescent is generally the shape produced when a circular disk has a segment of another circle removed from its edge, so that what remains is a shape enclosed by two circular arcs of different diameters which intersect at two points .In astronomy, a crescent...

-shaped cells for enhanced motility. The crescentin protein is located on the concave face of these cells and appears to be necessary for their shape, as mutants lacking the protein form rod-shaped cells. To influence the shape of the Caulobacter cells, the helices of crescentin filaments associate with the cytoplasmic side of the cell membrane
Cell membrane
The cell membrane or plasma membrane is a biological membrane that separates the interior of all cells from the outside environment. The cell membrane is selectively permeable to ions and organic molecules and controls the movement of substances in and out of cells. It basically protects the cell...

 on one lateral side of the cell. This induces a curved cell shape in younger cells, which are shorter than the helical pitch of crescentin, but induces a spiral shape in older, longer cells.

Protein structure

Like eukaryotic intermediate filaments, crescentin organizes into filaments and is present in a helical structure in the cell. Crescentin is necessary for both shapes of the Caulobacter prokaryote (vibroid/crescent-shape and helical shape, which it may adopt after a long stationary phase). The crescentin protein has 430 residues; its sequence mostly consists of a pattern of 7 repeated residues which form a coiled-coil structure. The DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms . The DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called genes, but other DNA sequences have structural purposes, or are involved in...

 sequence of the protein has sections very similar to the eukaryotic keratin
Keratin refers to a family of fibrous structural proteins. Keratin is the key of structural material making up the outer layer of human skin. It is also the key structural component of hair and nails...

 and lamin
Nuclear lamins, also known as Class V intermediate filaments, are fibrous proteins providing structural function and transcriptional regulation in the cell nucleus. Nuclear lamins interact with membrane-associated proteins to form the nuclear lamina on the interior of the nuclear envelope...

 proteins, mostly involving the coiled-coil structure. Researchers Ausmees et al. recently proved that, like animal intermediate filament proteins, crescentin has a central rod made up of four coiled-coil segments. Both intermediate filament and crescentin proteins have a primary sequence including four α-helical segments along with non-α-helical linker domains. An important difference between crescentin and animal intermediate filament proteins is that crescentin lacks certain consensus sequence elements at the ends of the rod domain which are conserved in animal lamin and keratin proteins.

Assembly of filaments

Eukaryotic intermediate filament proteins assemble into filaments of 8-15 nm within the cell without the need for energy input, that is, no need for ATP
Adenosine triphosphate
Adenosine-5'-triphosphate is a multifunctional nucleoside triphosphate used in cells as a coenzyme. It is often called the "molecular unit of currency" of intracellular energy transfer. ATP transports chemical energy within cells for metabolism...

 or GTP
Guanosine triphosphate
Guanosine-5'-triphosphate is a purine nucleoside triphosphate. It can act as a substrate for the synthesis of RNA during the transcription process...

. Ausmees et al. continued their crescentin research by testing whether the protein could assemble into filaments in this manner in vitro
In vitro
In vitro refers to studies in experimental biology that are conducted using components of an organism that have been isolated from their usual biological context in order to permit a more detailed or more convenient analysis than can be done with whole organisms. Colloquially, these experiments...

. They found that crescentin proteins were indeed able to form filaments about 10 nm wide, and that some of these filaments organized laterally into bundles, just as eukaryotic intermediate filaments do. The similarity of crescentin protein to intermediate filament proteins suggests an evolutionary linkage between these two cytoskeletal proteins.
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