Abstract

Perforin is a key protein of the vertebrate immune system. Secreted by cytotoxic lymphocytes as soluble monomers, perforin can self-assemble into oligomeric pores of 10–20 nm inner diameter in the membranes of virus-infected and cancerous cells. These large pores facilitate the entry of pro-apoptotic granzymes, thereby rapidly killing the target cell. To elucidate the pathways of perforin pore assembly, we carried out real-time atomic force microscopy and electron microscopy studies. Our experiments reveal that the pore assembly proceeds via a membrane-bound prepore intermediate state, typically consisting of up to approximately eight loosely but irreversibly assembled monomeric subunits. These short oligomers convert to more closely packed membrane nanopore assemblies, which can subsequently recruit additional prepore oligomers to grow the pore size.

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Acknowledgements

This work was funded by the BBSRC (BB/J005932/1, BB/J006254/1 and BB/N015487/1), the ERC (advanced grant no. 294408), the Wellcome Trust (no. 079605/2/06/02), NHMRC Fellowship (1059126), Project (1062706) and Program (1013667) grants, and the Sackler Foundation. The authors thank N. Nand Gosvami and J. Pegman for assistance with early experiments and analysis, and R. Thorogate, A. Ciccone and S. Verschoor for technical support.

Author information

Author notes

    • Carl Leung
    • , Adrian W. Hodel
    • , Amelia J. Brennan
    •  & Natalya Lukoyanova

    These authors contributed equally to this work

Affiliations

  1. London Centre for Nanotechnology, University College London, London WC1H 0AH, UK

    • Carl Leung
    • , Adrian W. Hodel
    •  & Bart W. Hoogenboom
  2. Department of Crystallography/Biological Sciences, Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology, Birkbeck College, London WC1E 7HX, UK

    • Carl Leung
    • , Natalya Lukoyanova
    •  & Helen R. Saibil
  3. Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK

    • Adrian W. Hodel
    •  & Bart W. Hoogenboom
  4. Killer Cell Biology Laboratory, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, East Melbourne, Victoria 3000, Australia

    • Amelia J. Brennan
    • , Sharon Tran
    •  & Ilia Voskoboinik
  5. Cancer Cell Death Laboratory, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, East Melbourne, Victoria 3000, Australia

    • Colin M. House
    •  & Joseph A. Trapani
  6. Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria 3800, Australia

    • Stephanie C. Kondos
    • , James C. Whisstock
    •  & Michelle A. Dunstone
  7. The ARC Centre of Excellence in Advanced Molecular Imaging, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria 3800, Australia

    • James C. Whisstock
    •  & Michelle A. Dunstone
  8. Department of Microbiology, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria 3800, Australia

    • Michelle A. Dunstone
  9. Sir Peter MacCallum Department of Oncology, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia

    • Joseph A. Trapani
    •  & Ilia Voskoboinik
  10. Department of Physics and Astronomy, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK

    • Bart W. Hoogenboom

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Contributions

C.L. designed, performed and analysed AFM experiments and co-wrote the paper. A.W.H. designed, performed and analysed AFM and FRAP experiments and co-wrote the paper. A.J.B. expressed mutant perforin, developed the TMH1-lock mutant and carried out haemolysis experiments. N.L. carried out and analysed electron microscopy experiments and co-wrote the paper. S.T. performed and analysed haemolysis experiments. C.M.H. performed mass spectrometric analysis and co-wrote the paper. S.C.K., J.C.W. and M.A.D. contributed to the TMH1-lock mutant design. J.A.T. designed in vitro experiments. I.V., H.R.S. and B.W.H. analysed the data, led the research and co-wrote the paper. All authors read and commented on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Ilia Voskoboinik or Helen R. Saibil or Bart W. Hoogenboom.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nnano.2016.303

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