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Nanotubes could help study retrovirus transmission between human cells
Date:6/26/2008

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. Recent findings by medical researchers indicate that naturally occurring nanotubes may serve as tunnels that protect retroviruses and bacteria in transit from diseased to healthy cells a fact that may explain why vaccines fare poorly against some invaders.

To better study the missions of these intercellular nanotubes, scientists have sought the means to form them quickly and easily in test tubes.

Sandia National Laboratories researchers have now learned serendipitously to form nanotubes with surprising ease.

"Our work is the first to show that the formation of nanotubes is not complicated, but can be a general effect of protein-membrane interactions alone," says Darryl Sasaki of Sandia's Bioscience and Energy Center.

Sandia is a National Nuclear Security Administration laboratory.

The tunnel-like structures have been recognized only recently as tiny but important bodily channels for the good, the bad, and the informational.

In addition to providing protected transport to certain diseases, the nanotubes also seem to help trundle bacteria to their doom in the tentacles of microphages. Lastly, the nanotubes may provide avenues to send and receive information (in the form of chemical molecules) from cell to cell far faster than their random dispersal into the bloodstream would permit.

Given the discovery of this radically different transportation system operating within human tissues, it was natural for researchers to attempt to duplicate the formation of the nanotubes. In their labs, they experimented with giant lipid vesicles that appeared to mimic key aspects of the cellular membrane.

Giant lipid vesicles resemble micron-sized spherical soap bubbles that exist in water. They are composed of a lipid bilayer membrane only five nanometers thick.

The object for experimenters was to create conditions in which the spheres would morph into cylinders of nanometer
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Contact: Neal Singer
nsinger@sandia.gov
505-845-7078
DOE/Sandia National Laboratories
Source:Eurekalert

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