Phosphorylation-mediated conformational changes in the mouse neurofilament architecture: Insight from a neurofilament brush model

William Stevenson, Rakwoo Chang, Yeshitila Gebremichael

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17 Scopus citations


Neurofilaments (NFs) are important cytoskeletal filaments that consist of long flexible C-terminal tails that are abundant with charges. The tails attain additional negative charges through serine phosphorylation of Lys-Ser-Pro (KSP) repeat motifs that are particularly found in neurofilament heavy (NF-H) and neurofilament medium (NF-M) proteins. These side-arm protrusions mediate the interaction between neighboring filaments and maintain axonal diameter. However, the precise role of NF proteins and their phosphorylation in regulating interfilament distances and axonal diameter still remains unclear. In this regard, a recent gene replacement study revealed that the phosphorylation of mouse NF-M KSP repeats does not affect axonal cytoarchitecture, challenging the conventional viewpoint on the role of NF phosphorylation. To better understand the effect of phosphorylation, particularly NF-M phosphorylation, we applied a computational method to reveal phosphorylation-mediated conformational changes in mouse NF architecture. We employed a three-dimensional sequence-based coarse-grained NF brush model to perform Monte Carlo simulations of mouse NF by using the sequence and stoichiometry of mouse NF proteins. Our result shows that the phosphorylation of mouse NF-M does not change the radial extension of NF-M side arms under a salt-free condition and in ionic solution, highlighting a structural factor that supports the notion that NF-M KSP phosphorylation has no effect on the axonal diameter of mouse. On the other hand, significant phosphorylation-mediated conformational changes were found in NF-H side arms under the salt-free condition, while the changes in ionic solution are not significant. However, NF-H side arms are found at the periphery of mouse NF architecture, implying a role in linking neighboring filaments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1101-1118
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2011


  • Monte Carlo simulation
  • neurofilament brush model
  • neurofilament side arms
  • phosphorylation
  • polyampholytes


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