Molecular motors in cells work together, study shows

Feb 13, 2009

Even within cells, the left hand knows what the right hand is doing. Molecular motors, the little engines that power cell mobility and the ability of cells to transport internal cargo, work together and in close coordination, according to a new finding by researchers at the University of Virginia. The work could have implications for the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders.

"We found that molecular motors operate in an amazingly coordinated manner when moving an algal cell one way or the other," said Jeneva Laib, the lead author and an undergraduate biomedical engineering student at the University of Virginia. "This provides a new understanding of the ways cells move."

The finding appears online in the current issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Laib, a second-year student from Lorton, Va., and her collaborators, U.Va. professors Robert Bloodgood and William Guilford, used the alga Chlamydomonas as a model to study how molecular motors in most types of cells work to move internal cargo, such as organelles associated with energy production and nutrient transport, or even the entire cell.

These motions are caused by a line of motors that pull the cell along, like the locomotive on a train. Previous studies had suggested that these motors pulled in opposite directions, like a game of tug of war. More recent studies indicated that the motors were working together rather than independently.

The new U.Va. study provides strong evidence that the motors are indeed working in coordination, all pulling in one direction, as if under command, or in the opposite direction — again, as if under strict instruction.

"We've found that large numbers of these molecular motors are turning on at the same time to generate large amounts of force, and then turning off at the same time to allow transport in the particular direction," said Guilford, Laib's adviser and lab director. "This insight opens up the possibility for us to begin to understand the mechanism that instructs the motors to pull one way or the other."

A greater understanding of cell motility and the ways in which cells move cargo within cells could eventually lead to therapies for neurodegenerative disorders such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's Disease), diabetic neuropathy, and Usher syndrome, a progressive loss of hearing and vision. Neurodegenerative diseases can be caused by defects in the transport processes within neural cells.

"You basically get a logjam within the cell that prevents forward progress of these motors and their cargo," Guilford said. "So if we could understand how the motors are normally coordinated inside cells, we might be able to eventually realize therapeutic approaches to restoring transport for cell revival."

"There is some amazing cooperation going on among these motors," noted Bloodgood, a specialist in cell locomotion research. "When one set of as many as 10 motors turn on, another set turns off in unison. Understanding this process could help us to restore this locomotion when defects occur."

Guilford noted that the study is an example of high-level research conducted by undergraduate students.

"Jeneva's work, published in a first-rate journal, shows that highly motivated and exceptionally bright young students can accomplish outstanding research well before graduate school."

Source: University of Virginia

Explore further: Compact wool measurement tool may find home on the range

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Revealing the inner workings of a molecular motor

Jan 12, 2015

In research published in the Journal of Cell Biology, scientists from the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan have made important steps toward understanding how dynein—a "molecular motor"—walks along ...

Recommended for you

Population genomics unveil seahorse domain

16 hours ago

In a finding vital to effective species management, a team including City College of New York biologists has determined that the lined seahorse (Hippocampus erectus) is more a permanent resident of the we ...

Researchers develop new potato cultivar

19 hours ago

Dakota Ruby is the name of a new potato cultivar developed by the NDSU potato breeding project and released by the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station. Dakota Ruby has bright red skin, stores well and is intended ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

superhuman
not rated yet Feb 14, 2009
Jeneva's work, published in a first-rate journal, shows that highly motivated and exceptionally bright young students can accomplish outstanding research well before graduate school.

Over-hyping is disgusting, especially in science.

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.