Cells may not have a mouth, but they still need to ingest substances from the external environment. If this process - known as endocytosis - is affected, it can lead to infectious diseases or cardio-vascular diseases, cancer, Huntingtons and diabetes. In cooperation with the Center for Information Services and High Performance Computing (ZIH) at the Dresden University of Technology, scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics therefore applied a new strategy to identify and characterize genes involved in endocytosis. For that a combination of high-resolution microscopy and quantitative image analysis enabled the scientists to investigate the effects of a large number of genes. From their findings the scientists also hope to derive significant information about how infections could be prevented and diseases treated in future. (Nature, February 28, 2010, advance online publication)
Cells take up material from the outside by pinching off from their cell membrane vesicles that transport substances to different cellular organelles. Depending on what they contain, these vesicles and organelles also known as endosomes are transported to different locations within the cell, where their content is either re-distributed or broken down to recycle the basic building blocks. Endosomes are organised in a complex transport network that ensures a correct transport of a wide variety of substances towards their proper intracellular destination. However, the exact details of how, for instance, signalling molecules arrive at their respective destinations and transmit their information from the cell membrane to the nucleus are still largely unknown.
The new investigation strategy provided the scientists with previously unimagined insights into the highly complicated processes that take place in the cell. They discovered in their images, for example, that a failure of certain genes cause the arrest of vesicles in the cell
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