How cells keep in shape

December 2, 2007
How cells keep in shape
The fluorescence microscope image shows microtubules in red and plus-end tracking proteins that label growing microtubule ends in green. Credit: Peter Bieling, EMBL

Cells in our body come in various shapes and sizes. Each cell is shaped in such a way as to optimise it for 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 in the body.

Researchers at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and the Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics (AMOLF), The Netherlands, have now decoded a molecular mechanism that plays an important role in the development of a cell’s shape. In this week’s issue of Nature they report a new experimental approach that sheds light on the interaction between proteins and the cell’s skeleton.

That each cell type has its unique shape is due to its cytoskeleton, an internal scaffold built of protein filaments. Especially important are microtubules, dynamic filaments that constantly grow and shrink. Their spatial organisation inside cells depends on a variety of regulator proteins, some of which only interact with the growing ends of these filament.

How these so called plus-end tracking proteins recognise the dynamic structure of a growing microtubule end is a long-standing puzzle. Researchers in the groups of Thomas Surrey and Damian Brunner at EMBL and of Marileen Dogetrom at AMOLF 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 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.”

Applying the new method they succeeded in dissecting a minimal molecular system consisting of three end tracking proteins from yeast cells. The proteins were labelled with fluorescence to monitor their behaviour with a microscope. This procedure revealed that one of the proteins has the ability to recognise the specific structure of the growing microtubule tip, binds to it and acts as a loading platform for the other two proteins. The inherent motor activity of one of the other two proteins, which allows it to walk along microtubules, contributes to the ability of the molecular system to follow growing microtubule ends selectively.

“The great advantage of our new assay is that it can be applied to all kinds of other proteins that interact with microtubules,” says Peter Bieling, who carried out the research in Surrey’s lab. “It is a powerful approach that will advance our understanding of the large variety of different microtubule end tracking proteins and can shed light on their mechanics and functions.”

Source: European Molecular Biology Laboratory

Explore further: Molecular machine, not assembly line, assembles microtubules

Related Stories

Molecular machine, not assembly line, assembles microtubules

August 20, 2015

When they think about how cells put together the molecules that make life work, biologists have tended to think of assembly lines: Add A to B, tack on C, and so on. But the reality might be more like a molecular version of ...

Firefly protein enables visualization of roots in soil

August 19, 2015

Plants form a vast network of below-ground roots that search soil for needed resources. The structure and function of this root network can be highly adapted to particular environments such as desert soils where plants like ...

Getting to the bottom of ageing

July 31, 2015

The question of why we age is one of the most fascinating questions for humankind, but nothing close to a satisfactory answer has been found to date. Scientists at the Leibniz-Institut für Molekulare Pharmakologie in Berlin ...

Moore's Law is 50 years old but will it continue?

July 20, 2015

It's been 50 years since Gordon Moore, one of the founders of the microprocessor company Intel, gave us Moore's Law. This says that the complexity of computer chips ought to double roughly every two years.

Recommended for you

Parasitized bees are self-medicating in the wild, study finds

September 1, 2015

Bumblebees infected with a common intestinal parasite are drawn to flowers whose nectar and pollen have a medicinal effect, a Dartmouth-led study shows. The findings suggest that plant chemistry could help combat the decline ...

ATLAS and CMS experiments shed light on Higgs properties

September 1, 2015

Three years after the announcement of the discovery of a new particle, the so-called Higgs boson, the ATLAS and CMS Collaborations present for the first time combined measurements of many of its properties, at the third annual ...

Brazilian wasp venom kills cancer cells by opening them up

September 1, 2015

The social wasp Polybia paulista protects itself against predators by producing venom known to contain a powerful cancer-fighting ingredient. A Biophysical Journal study published September 1 reveals exactly how the venom's ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

HenisDov
not rated yet Dec 03, 2007

How Cells Keep In Shape? No,
What Genomes Do With Building Materials!

(1)
http://www.physor...383.html

- "Each cell is shaped in such a way as to optimise it for a specific function".

- "...will advance our understanding of the large variety of different microtubule end tracking proteins and can shed light on their mechanics and functions.%u201D


(2)
http://blog.360.y...Q--?cq=1&p=372

Chapter I.D., "Cells Are Not Organisms"

- Scientifically, cells are NOT organisms. The outer cell membrane is an Organ. Plain and simple...it is a multifunctional organ of the genome...cellular membranes and cells' contents are evolution products of the in-cell organisms, the genomes. Continued reference to cells as organisms is a gross anachronism that brakes/slows developement of life sciences.

(3)
A Cell, in and out, is not only "specific application shaped" but also "specific application equipped", and the questions are:

- WHEN does it thus become "dedicated" by its genome, and

- How does it thus become "dedicated" by its genome, and

- Can/Does the genome ever "undedicate a location-specific-application-dedicated cell".

Dov Henis

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.