Gauging the forces between cells

Jul 19, 2012
Gauging the forces between cells
Credit: Thinkstock

Cell-cell junctions are important for communication, transport, signalling, waste evacuation and water homeostasis. An European project has investigated how biophysical forces can influence the fulfilment of this vast range of functions.

Communication and signalling between cells in almost all tissues is achieved by gap junctions or intercellular channels. Gap junctions are pairs of half-channels or connexons each having an assembly of six proteins (connexins) that come together. Although the functions and of gap junctions are well documented, little is known about the forces and energies these structures can support.

The 'Biophysical determinants of the adhesion strength of gap junctions' (Gapjunction Strength) project aimed to use advanced nanotools and (AFM) to measure the kinetics and binding strength between the cell-cell junctions. Project scientists used purified connexin proteins in reconstructed lipid membranes to obtain biophysical data on the intercellular bonds.

The Gapjunction Strength scientists applied force to the interacting and measured the dissociation characteristics. A rapid dissociation rate is indicative of a dynamic bond while a slow association rate reflected reduced flexibility and small size of the specially constructed structures mimicking extracellular loops. Adhesion strength was found to be significant, suggesting that the bond can support important forces prior to dissociation.

Results of the project have been published in journals. The has presented the group's results on the nature of the bond. Another paper is currently under review on a novel AFM imaging mode that is capable of mapping mechanical properties of at submolecular resolution.

Characterization of the protein-protein bonds from a biophysical angle at promises to hold the key to an understanding of the nature of intercellular channels. Crucial to the structural and biochemical integrity of multicellular organization, gap junction function will guide the direction of future molecular therapies for associated diseases.

Explore further: Discovery of nanotubes offers new clues about cell-to-cell communication

Related Stories

Cellular Workouts Strengthen Endothelial Cells' Grasp

May 13, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- University of Pennsylvania bioengineers have demonstrated that the cells that line blood vessels respond to mechanical forces -- the microscopic tugging and pulling on cellular structures ...

Recommended for you

Fin regenerative capability abates during aging

15 hours ago

Regenerative processes are the reason why wounds can heal and injured tissues can regrow. Some flatworms, salamanders and fishes even have the ability to completely rebuild whole bodily parts. In contrast, ...

Why human egg cells don't age well

19 hours ago

When egg cells form with an incorrect number of chromosomes—a problem that increases with age—the result is usually a miscarriage or a genetic disease such as Down syndrome. Now, researchers at the RIKEN ...

User comments : 0

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.