J Struct Biol 2008 Mar 11;161(3):447-58. Epub 2007 Aug 11.
Department of Molecular Cell Biology, Section Electron Microscopy, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, The Netherlands.
Multimers of von Willebrand Factor (vWF), a protein mediating blood clotting in response to vascular injury, are stored as tubular structures by endothelial cells in specific organelles, the Weibel-Palade Bodies (WPBs). To date very little is known about the 3D structure of WPBs in relation to the organization of the tubules. Therefore, we have initiated a thorough electron microscopic study in human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) using electron tomography to gain further understanding of the ultrastructure of WPBs. We found that in addition to the well-documented cigar-shape, WPBs adopt irregular forms, which appeared to result from homotypic fusion. In transverse views of WPBs the tubular striations appear evenly spaced, which indicates a high level of organization that is likely to involve an underlying scaffold of structural proteins. Additionally, we found that the tubular striations twisted in an orderly fashion, suggesting that they are stored within the WPBs by a spring-loading mechanism. Altogether these data suggest that WPBs undergo a relatively complex maturation process involving homotypic fusion. Although the mechanism of assembly of vWF multimers into tubules is still unknown, the curled arrangement of the tubules within WPBs suggests a high degree of folding of the protein inside the organelle.