The cell wall of the biflagellate alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii is a multilayered, extracellular matrix composed of carbohydrates and 20-25 polypeptides. To learn more about the forces responsible for the integrity of this cellulose-deficient cell wall, we have begun studies to identify and characterize the framework of the wall and to determine the effects of the cell wall-degrading enzyme, lysin, on framework structure and protein composition. In these studies we used walls released into the medium by mating gametes. When isolated shed walls are degraded by exogenously added lysin, no changes are detected in the charge or molecular weight of the 20-25 wall proteins and glycoproteins when analyzed on one- and two-dimensional polyacrylamide gels, which suggests that degradation of these shed walls is due either to cleavage of peptide bonds very near the ends of polypeptides or that degradation occurs via a mechanism other than proteolysis. Incubation of walls with Sarkosyl-urea solutions removes most of the proteins and yields thin structures that appear to be the frameworks of the walls. Analysis by polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis shows that the frameworks are highly enriched in a polypeptide of Mr 100,000. Treatment of frameworks with lysin leads to their degradation, which indicates that this part of the wall is a substrate for the enzyme. Although lysin converts the Mr 100,000 polypeptide from an insoluble to a soluble form, there is no detectable change in Mr of the framework protein. Solubilization in the absence of lysin requires treatment with SDS and dithiothreitol at 100 degrees C. These results suggest that the Chlamydomonas cell wall is composed of two separate domains: one containing approximately 20 proteins held together by noncovalent interactions and a second domain, containing only a few proteins, which constitutes the framework of the wall. The result that shed walls can be solubilized by boiling in SDS-dithiothreitol indicates that disulfide linkages are critical for wall integrity. Using an alternative method for isolating walls from mechanically disrupted gametes, we have also shown that a wall-shaped portion of these unshed walls is insoluble under the same conditions in which shed walls are soluble. One interpretation of these results is that wall release during mating and the wall degradation that follows may involve distinct biochemical events.

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