Vectorial synthesis of a polysaccharide by isolated plasma membranes
To ascertain the directionality of chitin synthesis by yeast plasma membranes, the external surface of Saccharomyces cerevisiae protoplasts was labeled with ferritin--concanavalin A. After protoplast lysis, plasma membranes were isolated and treated with trypsin to activate chitin synthase (UDP-2-acetamido-2-deoxy-D-glucose:chitin 4-beta-acetamidodeoxy-D-glucosyl-transferase, EC 220.127.116.11). The membranes were then enrobed in agar and allowed to synthesize chitin from UDP-N-acetylglucosamine. After fixation and embedding in Epon, thin sections were stained for chitin with wheat germ agglutinin--colloidal gold complexes. The chitin marker was found near the ferritin-labeled external face of the membrane--i.e., the polysaccharide was located on the outside of the membrane, as it is in the intact cell. Chitin synthase activity was not detected in intact protoplasts before or after treatment with trypsin. The enzyme became available to trypsin activation after lysis of the protoplasts. Together with similar, previously reported experiments on the inactivation of chitin synthase by glutaraldehyde, these results indicate that the enzyme faces the interior of the cell. We conclude that, both in vivo and in vitro, the synthase receives N-acetylglucosamine residues from UDP-N-acetylglucosamine at the cytoplasmic face of the membrane and transfers them vectorially to a growing chain of chitin that is concomitantly extruded to the outside.