Vaults are large ribonucleoprotein particles found in eukaryotic cells. They are composed of multiple copies of a M r 100,000 major vault protein and two minor vault proteins of M r 193,000 and 240,000, as well as small untranslated RNAs of 86–141 bases. The vault components are arranged into a highly characteristic hollow barrel-like structure of 35 × 65 nm in size. Vaults are predominantly localized in the cytoplasm where they may associate with cytoskeletal elements. A small fraction of vaults are found to be associated with the nucleus. As of yet, the precise cellular function of the vault complex is unknown. However, their distinct morphology and intracellular distribution suggest a role in intracellular transport processes. Here we review the current knowledge on the vault complex, its structure, components and possible functions.
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