Chemists get grip on slippery lipids

Aug 30, 2007

The ability of the body's cells to correctly receive and convey signals is crucial to good health. Lipids, or fats, play a critical role in this regulation by providing spaces for proteins to gather and network. They are helped in this process by protein molecules called lipid binding domains.

Understanding how these domains work may open up new targets of opportunity for drug development to treat illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and various inflammatory diseases.

Studying lipid binding domains is a specialty of Wonhwa Cho, distinguished professor of chemistry at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In two recently released papers appearing in the EMBO Journal and the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Cho and his associates describe mechanisms by which a particular binding domain -- the PX or "Phox" -- recognize specific lipids and interact with cell membranes to modulate functions.

"The PX domain can recognize and interact with a large number of lipid molecules and other proteins," said Cho. "We study how particular types of PX domains recognize specific lipids."

In the papers, Cho describes the structure and function PX domains from two proteins, KIF16B and Bem1p, which interact with a class of signaling lipids called phosphoinositides.

"KIF16B-PX domain is a critical component of the regulatory mechanism to modulate the duration of receptor-mediated cell signaling pathways," Cho said. "That's important because both prolonged and shortened signaling pathways will cause problems."

"Bem1p-PX domain is a yeast scaffold protein that's critical for cell polarity. It serves as an excellent model system to study how a scaffold protein goes to the cell membrane in response to a particular lipid signal, and then modulates multiple protein-protein interactions."

Cho's research group pioneered a novel biophysical approach to explain the complex mechanisms by which cellular lipid signals specifically and divergently activate a wide array of lipid binding domains and the proteins harboring these domains during various cellular processes.

"This research may help in development of new types of small molecules and drugs that specifically modulate the signaling and trafficking processes," Cho said. "For example, if a cellular malfunction is caused by over-activation of a particular lipid-mediated pathway, then we can turn off that pathway by developing a compound that interferes with the interaction of the lipid with its binding protein."

Source: University of Illinois at Chicago

Explore further: Recycling industrial waste water: Scientists discover a new method of producing hydrogen

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Cell protein interactions favor fats

Mar 22, 2012

For cells to signal each other to carry out their vital work, could the cell membrane's lipids -- or fats -- play a role in buttering-up the process? A research group led by University of Illinois at Chicago chemistry professor ...

Recommended for you

User comments : 0

More news stories

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

Leeches help save woman's ear after pit bull mauling

(HealthDay)—A pit bull attack in July 2013 left a 19-year-old woman with her left ear ripped from her head, leaving an open wound. After preserving the ear, the surgical team started with a reconnection ...