Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have headed a study that provides new knowledge about the EphA2 receptor, which is significant in several forms of cancer. This is important knowledge in itself but just as important is how this study, which is published in the highly respected journal Nature Methods, was conducted. The researchers used the method of DNA origami, in which a DNA molecule is shaped into a nanostructure, and used these structures to test theories about cell signalling.
It was previously known that the EphA2 receptor played a part in several forms of cancer, such as breast cancer. The ligand, i.e., the protein that communicates with the receptor, is known as an ephrin molecule. Researchers have had a hypothesis that the distance between different ligands in this case the distance between ephrin molecules affects the level of activity in the communicating receptor of the adjacent cells.
The Swedish researchers set out to test this hypothesis. They used DNA building blocks to form a stable rod. This has then been used as a very accurate measure of the distance between molecules.
"We use DNA as the construction material for a tool that we can experiment with", says Bjrn Hgberg, principal investigator at the Department of Neuroscience. "The genetic code of the DNA in these structures is less important in this case."
The researchers attached proteins, or ephrins, to the DNA rod at various intervals, for example 40 or 100 nanometres apart. The DNA rods were then placed in a solution containing breast cancer cells. In the next step, the researchers looked at how active EphA2 was in these cancer cells.
It turned out that if the ephrin molecules were placed close together on the DNA rod, the receptor in question became more active in the cancer cells, and the cells also became less invasive in respect of the surrounding cells, which could be an indication that they became less prone to
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