Much of biomedical science both mystifying and awe-inspiring to the lay public depends on an unwavering focus on things that can't be easily seen, like the inner-workings of cells, in order to determine how and why disease develops. New research authored by Thomas Sladewski, a University of Vermont graduate student working in the laboratory of Kathleen Trybus, Ph.D., and colleagues, provides a rare "picture" of the activity taking place at the single molecular level: visual evidence of the mechanisms involved when a cell transports mRNA (or messenger RNA) to where a protein is needed to perform a cellular function.
The study appears in the June 30, 2013 Nature Structural and Molecular Biology.
The process of mRNA localization is critical for cellular function. When defects in mRNA transport take place, human diseases, such as spinal muscular atrophy and Alzheimer's disease, can occur. The transport of mRNAs is also important for neuronal development and synaptic plasticity, which is necessary for learning and memory.
According to Trybus, a UVM professor of molecular physiology and biophysics, ensuring proper cellular function is challenging. "The proteins responsible for orchestrating this task are not uniformly distributed, but they often need to be in a certain place at a certain time," she says. That's where mRNA plays a role; cells employ a unique identifier signal in the mRNA called a "zip code" to ensure it transports to the place where the protein is needed.
"Just like the address on a piece of mail, these zip codes help transport the mRNA by linking up with a tiny molecular motor called myosin, which walks on a track called actin, carrying the mRNA to its destination," Trybus explains.
Sladewski says that most mRNAs that are transported actually have multiple zip codes, which is like writing the address four times on a piece of mail. "In our study, one question that we asked is why these mRNAs have s
|Contact: Jennifer Nachbur|
University of Vermont