Cells change shape in response to diverse environmental and developmental conditions, creating topologies with micron-scale features. Although individual proteins can sense nanometer-scale membrane curvature, it is unclear if a cell could also use nanometer-scale components to sense micron-scale contours, such as the cytokinetic furrow and base of neuronal branches. Septins are filament-forming proteins that serve as signaling platforms and are frequently associated with areas of the plasma membrane where there is micron-scale curvature, including the cytokinetic furrow and the base of cell protrusions. We report here that fungal and human septins are able to distinguish between different degrees of micron-scale curvature in cells. By preparing supported lipid bilayers on beads of different curvature, we reconstitute and measure the intrinsic septin curvature preference. We conclude that micron-scale curvature recognition is a fundamental property of the septin cytoskeleton that provides the cell with a mechanism to know its local shape.
© 2016 Bridges et al.