Navigation Links
Little-known protein found to be key player

HOUSTON -- (July 29, 2009) -- Italian and U.S. biologists this week report that a little-understood protein previously implicated in a rare genetic disorder plays an unexpected and critical role in building and maintaining healthy cells. Even more surprising, their report in the journal Nature shows that the protein, called "atlastin," does its work by fusing intracellular membranes in a previously undocumented way.

"If you'd asked me a year ago whether this was possible, I would have said, 'No,'" said study co-author James McNew, associate professor of biochemistry and cell biology at Rice University. "In fact, that's exactly what I told (co-author) Andrea Daga when we first spoke about the idea a year ago."

McNew has spent the past 15 years studying SNARE proteins, a specialized family of proteins that carries out membrane fusion. It's a vital process that happens thousands of times a second in every cell of our bodies.

"It is fitting that the discovery of a new protein capable of fusing membranes comes 10 years after the demonstration that SNAREs can fuse lipid bilayers," said Daga, a researcher at the Eugenio Medea Scientific Institute in Conegliano, Italy.

In the new study, Daga's and McNew's research teams used fruit flies to study how atlastin functions. The atlastin in fruit flies is very similar to the human version of the protein and serves the same function.

"Prior to this, there were only two defined ways in which you could take biological membranes and put them together in a specific way," said McNew, a faculty investigator at Rice's BioScience Resesarch Collaborative. "Atlastin is the third, and it's the only one that requires enzymatic activity, so it's distinctly different."

Using a range of tests on purified proteins, live fruit flies and cell cultures, the Italian and U.S. teams examined the effect of both an overabundance and a scarcity of atlastin on cell function and on fruit fly development. They also created mutant versions of the protein to see how it functioned -- or failed to function -- when some parts were disabled.

The tests showed that cells with extra atlastin had an overdeveloped endoplasmic reticulum (ER), a system of interconnected membrane tubes and chambers that's critical for normal cell function. The tests also showed too little atlastin led to a fragmented ER. Flies with defective atlastin were sterile and short-lived.

"The endoplasmic reticulum is an ever-changing environment," McNew said. "It grows. It retracts. It expands. It collapses. It's highly dynamic, and for that to be the case, there has to be a mechanism by which it can grow new pieces and connect those pieces together. That's where the fusion comes in."

Daga said the discovery will lay the foundation for a deeper understanding of both basic biological processes and disease.

"We hope the findings lead to a better understanding of hereditary spastic paraplegia (HSP), the genetic disorder that atlastin has been linked with," Daga said.

HSP is a rare genetic condition that affects fewer than one million people worldwide. It's marked by a partial paralysis of the lower extremities due to defects in the body's longest cells, the neurons that run from the spine through the legs.

Daga said atlastin's role in building and maintaining a healthy ER may help HSP researchers better understand why neurons are affected first.

"This is the first clue," Daga said. "We have the definition of what the protein does. Now we need to explore how it does that, and what it means."


Contact: Jade Boyd
Rice University

Related biology news :

1. Book on little-known species and conservation provides guidance to managers and others
2. MSU researcher uses grant to study little-known but largely useful microbes
3. Protein chatter linked to cancer activation
4. Scientists link fragile X tremor/ataxia syndrome to binding protein in RNA
5. Researchers identify proteins involved in new neurodegenerative syndrome
6. Low levels of key protein may indicate pancreatic cancer risk
7. Structure of 450 million year old protein reveals evolutions steps
8. Scientists retrace evolution with first atomic structure of an ancient protein
9. Specific brain protein required for nerve cell connections to form and function
10. NIH awards researcher $1.5 million new innovator grant for fruit-fly studies of prion proteins
11. Interacting protein theory awaits test from new neutron analysis tools
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
Little-known protein found to be key player
(Date:11/12/2015)... LONDON , Nov. 11, 2015   ... and reliable analytical tools has been paving the ... and qualitative determination of discrete analytes in clinical, ... sensors are being predominantly used in medical applications, ... and environmental sectors due to continuous emphasis on ...
(Date:11/9/2015)... , Nov. 09, 2015 ... addition of the "Global Law Enforcement ... offering. --> ) has ... Law Enforcement Biometrics Market 2015-2019" report ... and Markets ( ) has announced ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... , Oct. 29, 2015   MedNet Solutions , ... entire spectrum of clinical research, is pleased to announce ... Tech Association (MHTA) as one of only three finalists ... "Software – Small and Growing" category. The Tekne Awards honor ... have shown superior technology innovation and leadership. ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/24/2015)... QUEBEC CITY , Nov. 24, 2015 /PRNewswire/ - ... the request of IIROC on behalf of the Toronto ... this news release there are no corporate developments that ... price. --> --> ... --> . --> Aeterna Zentaris ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... November 24, 2015 , ... The Academy of Model Aeronautics ... (SIG), MultiGP, also known as Multirotor Grand Prix, to represent the First–Person View (FPV) ... Many AMA members have embraced this type of racing and several new model aviation ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... CITY , Nov. 24, 2015 /PRNewswire/ - ... "Company") announced today that the remaining 11,000 post-share ... Share Purchase Warrants (the "Series B Warrants") subject ... were exercised on November 23, 2015, which will ... Shares.  After giving effect to the issuance of ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... November 24, 2015 , ... Creation Technologies would like ... to Deloitte's 2015 Technology Fast 500 list of the fastest growing companies in ... Class II medical device that speeds up orthodontic tooth movement by as much ...
Breaking Biology Technology: