Scientists determine 3D structure of proteins in living cells for the first time

Mar 05, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- A University of Glasgow scientist was part of a team of researchers which has, for the first time, been able to determine the three-dimensional structure of protein in living cells.

The discovery, published in the latest edition of Nature, means scientists can now prove correct previous assumptions about the structure of proteins and how they change due to mutations and interactions with each other, as well as helping to find ways of correcting damage.

From the 1950s until now, scientists have only been able to closely examine the structures of proteins in their extracted and purified form (in vitro) but these conditions are very different from those inside living cells (in vivo).

Using a nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer - a machine that allows the distances between the nuclei of atoms within a molecule to be measured - researchers were able to work out the three dimensional shape of an example protein called TTHA1718 which was being produced in living cells of the bacterium E.coli.

Doctor Brian Smith of the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Glasgow provided expertise that helped the Japanese-based and funded international team, led by Yutaka Ito at the Tokyo Metropolitan University, pursue this particular line of research.

Doctor Smith, a lecturer in biochemistry and cell biology, said: “Most proteins don’t exist in isolation; instead they exist in a very crowded environment inside cells where they interact with other molecules and, critically, a large of class of proteins don’t have a definite three-dimensional structure when you take them out of living cells.

“This new, relatively inexpensive method of using NMR spectroscopy means we can now establish the structure of proteins whilst still in live cells and will tell us much more about how they work, and how they change when mutated.

“Our results open new avenues for investigation of protein structures at atomic resolution and how they change in response to biological events in living environments.

“We’ll now try the technique with other, more interesting proteins, which are unstable when you take them out of cells. Ultimately, it could help us discover whether drugs to correct damaged or mutated proteins are working and find new methods of fixing them.”

Proteins are made up of long chains of amino-acids and play essential roles in all aspects of life from metabolism, through detecting and responding to stimuli, to the way organisms are put together. Mutated proteins are implicated in a whole range of illnesses, from cancer to the neurodegenerative condition Huntington’s Disease.

Dr Smith leads a group at the University of Glasgow which uses a 600MHz NMR spectrometer, with a cryogenically cooled probe, to study the structure and functions of proteins and nucleic acids involved in processes in a variety of systems.

More information: A paper on the research entitled, ‘Protein structure determination in living cells by in-cell NMR spectroscopy’, is published in the journal Nature.

Provided by University of Glasgow

Explore further: First detailed microscopy evidence of bacteria at the lower size limit of life

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Fresh nuclear leak detected at Fukushima plant

8 hours ago

Sensors at the Fukushima nuclear plant have detected a fresh leak of highly radioactive water to the sea, the plant's operator announced Sunday, highlighting difficulties in decommissioning the crippled plant.

Spacewalking astronauts route cable in 1st of 3 jobs

8 hours ago

(AP)—Spacewalking astronauts routed more than 300 feet (90 meters) of cable outside the International Space Station on Saturday, tricky and tiring advance work for the arrival of new American-made crew ...

Driverless shuttle will be on the move in UK

9 hours ago

(Phys.org) —"Autonomous public transport" is on the minds of planners who envision self-driving vehicles that would cross over short distances, suited for airport transport, industrial sites, theme parks ...

Recommended for you

Malaria transmission linked to mosquitoes' sexual biology

Feb 26, 2015

Sexual biology may be the key to uncovering why Anopheles mosquitoes are unique in their ability to transmit malaria to humans, according to researchers at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and University of Per ...

Intermediary neuron acts as synaptic cloaking device

Feb 26, 2015

Neuroscientists believe that the connectome, a map of each and every connection between the millions of neurons in the brain, will provide a blueprint that will allow them to link brain anatomy to brain function. ...

Skeleton of cells controls cell multiplication

Feb 26, 2015

A research team from Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia (IGC; Portugal), led by Florence Janody, in collaboration with Nicolas Tapon from London Research Institute (LRI; UK), discovered that the cell's skeleton ...

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.