A molecular census of 26S proteasomes in intact neurons

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Science  23 Jan 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6220, pp. 439-442
DOI: 10.1126/science.1261197

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A detailed look at proteasomes in situ

The 26S proteasome is a protein machine that degrades intracellular proteins in the cytosol. The proteasome is critical for protein quality control and for the regulation of numerous cellular processes in eukaryotic cells. The structure of isolated proteasomes is well established, but how intact proteasomes look within the cell is less clear. Asano et al. used an improved approach to electron cryotomography to look at proteasomes in intact hippocampal neurons. Their analysis suggests that these cells only use about 20% of their proteasomes in an unstressed state, which leaves significant spare capacity to deal with proteotoxic stress.

Science, this issue p. 439


The 26S proteasome is a key player in eukaryotic protein quality control and in the regulation of numerous cellular processes. Here, we describe quantitative in situ structural studies of this highly dynamic molecular machine in intact hippocampal neurons. We used electron cryotomography with the Volta phase plate, which allowed high fidelity and nanometer precision localization of 26S proteasomes. We undertook a molecular census of single- and double-capped proteasomes and assessed the conformational states of individual complexes. Under the conditions of the experiment—that is, in the absence of proteotoxic stress—only 20% of the 26S proteasomes were engaged in substrate processing. The remainder was in the substrate-accepting ground state. These findings suggest that in the absence of stress, the capacity of the proteasome system is not fully used.

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