PMEL is a pigment cell-specific protein that forms a functional amyloid matrix in melanosomes. The matrix consists of well-separated fibrillar sheets on which the pigment melanin is deposited. Using electron tomography, we demonstrate that this sheet architecture is governed by the PMEL repeat (RPT) domain, which associates with the amyloid as an accessory proteolytic fragment. Thus, the RPT domain is dispensable for amyloid formation as such but shapes the morphology of the matrix, probably in order to maximize the surface area available for pigment adsorption. Although the primary amino acid sequence of the RPT domain differs vastly among various vertebrates, we show that it is a functionally conserved, interchangeable module. RPT domains of all species are predicted to be very highly O-glycosylated, which is likely the common defining feature of this domain. O-glycosylation is indeed essential for RPT domain function and the establishment of the PMEL sheet architecture. Thus, O-glycosylation, not amino acid sequence, appears to be the major factor governing the characteristic PMEL amyloid morphology.
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