Structure and transformation of chitin synthetase particles (chitosomes) during microfibril synthesis in vitro
The fine structure of isolated chitin synthetase (UDP-2-acetamido-2-deoxy-D-glucose:chitin 4-beta-acetamido-deoxyglucosyltransferase; EC 2-4-1-16) particles (chitosomes) from Mucor rouxii and the elaboration of chitin microfibrils were studied by electron microscopy. Chitosomes are spheroidal, but often polymorphic, structures, mostly 40-70 nm in diameter. Their appearance after negative staining varies. Some reveal internal granular structure enclosed by a shell measuring 6-12 nm thick; others do not show internal structure but have a pronounced depression of the external surface. In thin sections, isolated chitosomes appear as microvesicular structures with a tripartite shell 6.5-7.0 nm thick. Morphologically similar structures can be seen in intact cells of M. rouxii. Isolated chitosomes undergo a seemingly irreversible series of transformations when substrate and activators are added. The internal structure changes, and a coiled microfibril (fibroid) appears inside the chitosome. The shell of the chitosome is opened or shed, and an extended microfibril arises from the fibroid particle. During prolonged incubation, the fibroid coils become less common and extended microfibrils appear thicker. We regard the chitosome as the cytoplasmic container and conveyor of chitin synthetase en route to its destination at the cell surface. Isolated chitosomes are well suited for integrated ultrastructural-biochemical studies of microfibril biogenesis in vitro.