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Cells' 'molecular muscles' help them sense and respond to their environments
Date:10/20/2013

Johns Hopkins researchers used suction to learn that individual "molecular muscles" within cells respond to different types of force, a finding that may explain how cells "feel" the environment and appropriately adapt their shapes and activities.

A summary of the discovery, published online Oct. 20 in the journal Nature Materials, specifically sheds light on how forces outside of cells are translated into internal signals.

A computer model the researchers developed, they add, also lets them predict what a cell will do in response to altered levels of those "muscles," a common occurrence in a variety of cancers.

"We can now begin explaining what goes on in various diseases because we understand the fundamental mechanisms behind how cells experience different forces and respond to them," says Douglas Robinson, Ph.D., professor of cell biology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

"For the first time," he adds, "we are able to explain what a cell can do through the individual workings of different proteins, and because all cells use information about the forces in their environments to direct decisions about migration, division and cell fate, this work has implications for a whole host of cellular disorders including cancer metastasis and neurodegeneration."

Life as a cell, Robinson notes, is not so easy. For example, most cells are constantly pummeled by water molecules moving at speeds around 1,100 mph (almost 2,000 kph and roughly six times the speed of Category 5 hurricane winds). Red blood cells tumble through blood vessels and squeeze through tiny capillaries to bring oxygen to every part of the body. And bone cells feel the weight of an organism in a way that other cells don't.

"Cells, like our bodies, have a sort of skin through which they sense their environments," explains Robinson. "The hardness of their surroundings, various pressures, pushing and pulling, all of tho
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Contact: Catherine Kolf
ckolf@jhmi.edu
443-287-2251
Johns Hopkins Medicine
Source:Eurekalert  

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