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article imageHow Cells Maintain Their Shape

By Bob Ewing     Dec 2, 2007 in Science
Cells in our body come in various shapes and sizes. Each cell is shaped in such a way as to optimise a specific function. When things go wrong and a cell does not adopt its dedicated shape, its function can be impaired and the cell can cause problems.
The cells, which are in our bodies, come in various shapes and sizes. Individual cells are shaped in order to optimize the cell for a specific function. If something goes wrong and a cell fails to take its dedicated shape, its function can be impaired and the cell can cause problems in the body.
A molecular mechanism has been decoded by a team of researchers working with the European Molecular Biology Laboratory [EMBL] and the Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics [AMOLF], The Netherlands. This molecular mechanism plays an important role in the development of a cell’s life and the research team is able to shed light on the interaction between proteins and the cell's skeleton.
The cell’s cytoskeleton, which is an internal scaffold built of protein filaments, is the reason that each cell has an unique shape.
The microtubules, which are dynamic filaments that constantly grow and shrink, are vital to this process.
The spatial organization of microtubules inside cells depends on a variety of regulator proteins, some of which only interact with the growing ends of this filament. Researchers did not know how these so called plus-end tracking proteins were able to recognize the dynamic structure of a growing microtubule end.
Researchers have now developed the first method that allows to simultaneously study multiple plus-end tracking molecules, so called +TIPs, in the test tube.
"+TIPs specifically bind to the fast-growing plus end of a microtubule and follow it as it grows. They act as a plus-end label so that other proteins know where to bind to regulate the filament's stability," says Thomas Surrey. "For years it has been impossible to reconstitute this behaviour in a test tube. Our new system now revealed which proteins need to be present for plus-end tracking and what the underlying mechanisms are."
When the team applied the new method they succeeded in dissecting a minimal molecular system consisting of three end tracking proteins from yeast cells. The proteins were labeled with fluorescence to monitor their behaviour with a microscope.
As a result of this procedure it was revealed that one of the proteins has the ability to recognize the specific structure of the growing microtubule tip, binds to it and acts as a loading platform for the other two proteins.
It is the inherent motor activity of one of the other two proteins, which allows it to walk along microtubules, that contributes to the ability of the molecular system to follow growing microtubule ends selectively.
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