Every single one of our cells contains so-called motor proteins that transport important substances from one location to another. However, very little is known about how exactly these transport processes occur. Biophysicists at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) and Ludwig Maximilians Universitaet Muenchen (LMU) have now succeeded in explaining fundamental functions of a particularly interesting motor protein. They report their findings in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA).
Motorized transport proteins are one of the keys to the development of higher organisms. It is they that enable the cell to transport important substances directly and quickly to a specific location in the cell. As bacteria cannot do this, they are not able to form larger cells or even large organisms with many cells. Particularly important are fast transport proteins in the primary cilia, the cell's antennas, with which they channel information from the surroundings into the cell.
Like trucks on a highway, kinesins transport cellular cargoes to their destinations. They do this by crawling along protein fibers, so-called microtubules, which extend through the entire cell. Kinesins consist of two long intertwined protein chains. At one end of every protein there is a head that can attach itself to certain structures on the surface of the microtubules; the freight is attached to the other end.
Very special kinesins are at work in the cilia of the Caenorhabditis elegans nematode: They consist of two different protein chains and are therefore especially suitable for investigating the transport mechanisms. As freight, the researchers attached small plastic beads to the ends of these motor proteins. They can manipulate these beads with "optical tweezers," a specially formed laser beam.
One end of the protein molecule was held with the optical tweezers; the other was able to walk on microtubules. This
|Contact: Patrick Regan|
Technische Universitaet Muenchen