Study uncovers structure, protein elements critical to human function and disease

Jun 25, 2014

New structures discovered within cilia show a relationship between certain proteins and juvenile myoclonic epilepsy. The discovery, made at the University of Minnesota, was named paper of the week in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, and sheds new light on the microstructure of cilia.

Cilia are microscopic, hair-like structures occurring in large numbers on the surface of some of the body's cells and are involved in movement and perception. Cilia are composed of double microtubules, which are in turn composed of protofilaments.

Richard Linck, Ph.D., professor in the College of Biological Sciences and the Medical School at the University of Minnesota, worked closely with a team to identify specialized ribbons of four protofilaments within the microtubules of . The function of these ribbons had been elusive to researchers, but unlocking the function of these elements improves understanding of how they fit into the bigger picture.

Utilizing cryo-electron tomography and sea urchin sperm tails, researchers identified a single ribbon of four protofilaments in each microtubule, with each microtubule containing a single filament of the protein tektin. Despite the extremely high resolution and protofilament ribbon identifications, there is still a small zone of confusion where the filament meets the ribbon. Thus, it is remains unclear how the filament fits into the structure of the ribbon.

"This discovery may not seem like a giant leap, but it does help us answer some pretty major questions," said Linck. "This structural mapping, similar to taking apart an engine to understand the subcomponents, allows us to see inside cilia. We're getting the highest resolution on this structure to date and finding where the parts belong and how they contribute to the overall structure and function."

As part of the push for structural mapping, Linck and his research team applied biochemical analysis to the ribbon. In this assessment, several proteins have been localized to the ribbon, including tektin and two others casually associated with , including juvenile myoclonic epilepsy.

It is still unclear if the cilia are directly involved in the cause of the epilepsy and other diseases, or if the relevant proteins function in other, non-ciliary ways to cause disease. However, the mapping itself begins to unlock those clues.

Future research is needed to understand the relationship of these ribbon-associated proteins to human disease, as well as to better understand how the filament is structured in the larger ribbon.

Explore further: 3-D imaging and modern electron microscopy to see cellular structures in high resolution

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

A molecular delivery service

Aug 30, 2013

Tiny hair-like structures (cilia) are found on the surface of most cells. Cilia are responsible for the locomotion of cells (e.g. sperm cells), they process external signals and coordinate the correct arrangement ...

How cells' sensing hairs are made

Jun 08, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Body cells detect signals that control their behavior through tiny hairs on the cell surface called cilia. Serious diseases and disorders can result when these cilia do not work properly. New research from ...

Recommended for you

What causes the sunlight flavour in milk?

4 hours ago

Most of us have tasted milk that has been left in the sun – it has a distinctive off-flavour. The reason is that milk and other dairy products turn rancid when exposed to light.

Scientists find clues to cancer drug failure

22 hours ago

Cancer patients fear the possibility that one day their cells might start rendering many different chemotherapy regimens ineffective. This phenomenon, called multidrug resistance, leads to tumors that defy ...

Smart crystallization

Mar 02, 2015

A novel nucleating agent that builds on the concept of molecularly imprinted polymers (MIPs) could allow crystallographers access to proteins and other biological macromolecules that are usually reluctant ...

Supersonic electrons could produce future solar fuel

Mar 02, 2015

Researchers from institutions including Lund University have taken a step closer to producing solar fuel using artificial photosynthesis. In a new study, they have successfully tracked the electrons' rapid transit through ...

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.