, Volume 244, Issue 1-4, pp 99-131

The spectrin–ankyrin–4.1–adducin membrane skeleton: adapting eukaryotic cells to the demands of animal life

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The cells in animals face unique demands beyond those encountered by their unicellular eukaryotic ancestors. For example, the forces engendered by the movement of animals places stresses on membranes of a different nature than those confronting free-living cells. The integration of cells into tissues, as well as the integration of tissue function into whole animal physiology, requires specialisation of membrane domains and the formation of signalling complexes. With the evolution of mammals, the specialisation of cell types has been taken to an extreme with the advent of the non-nucleated mammalian red blood cell. These and other adaptations to animal life seem to require four proteins—spectrin, ankyrin, 4.1 and adducin—which emerged during eumetazoan evolution. Spectrin, an actin cross-linking protein, was probably the earliest of these, with ankyrin, adducin and 4.1 only appearing as tissues evolved. The interaction of spectrin with ankyrin is probably a prerequisite for the formation of tissues; only with the advent of vertebrates did 4.1 acquires the ability to bind spectrin and actin. The latter activity seems to allow the spectrin complex to regulate the cell surface accumulation of a wide variety of proteins. Functionally, the spectrin–ankyrin–4.1–adducin complex is implicated in the formation of apical and basolateral domains, in aspects of membrane trafficking, in assembly of certain signalling and cell adhesion complexes and in providing stability to otherwise mechanically fragile cell membranes. Defects in this complex are manifest in a variety of hereditary diseases, including deafness, cardiac arrhythmia, spinocerebellar ataxia, as well as hereditary haemolytic anaemias. Some of these proteins also function as tumor suppressors. The spectrin–ankyrin–4.1–adducin complex represents a remarkable system that underpins animal life; it has been adapted to many different functions at different times during animal evolution.

Handling Editor: David Robinson