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Study sheds light on how cells transport materials along crowded intercellular 'highways'
Date:12/13/2012

Worcester, Mass. The interior of an animal cell is like a small city, with factoriescalled organellesdedicated to manufacturing, energy production, waste processing, and other life functions. A network of intercellular "highways," called microtubules, enables bio-molecular complexes, products, and other cargo to move speedily about the cell to keep this vital machinery humming. A new paper published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences sheds new light on how cells manage to keep traffic flowing smoothly along this busy transportation network that is vital to the survival of cells and whose failure can lead to a variety of diseases, including Alzheimer's and cancer.

The study, "Motor transport of self-assembled cargos in crowded environments", is co-authored by Jennifer Ross, assistant professor of physics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Erkan Tzel, assistant professor of physics at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), and Leslie Conway and Derek Wood, graduate students of physics at UMass Amherst. It examines how proteins called motors (the trucks of the intercellular transport network) cooperate to minimize traffic jams and maximize the distance traveled by cargos.

In the study, the researchers used quantum dots (nanometer-sized semiconductors that reflect brightly in microscopy images) as cargo. In the laboratory, they attached these tiny cargos to individual motor proteins and then allowed those proteins to attach to a microtubule. Motor proteins are able to "walk" along microtubules by attaching and detaching parts of their structure to the microtubule, much like the hand-over-hand motion of a person climbing a rope. The researchers observed how the quantum dots moved along the microtubule as they created more and more traffic by adding more and more motor proteins to the highways of this sim
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Contact: Michael Dorsey
mwdorsey@wpi.edu
508-831-5609
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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