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TRAPping proteins that work together inside living cells
Date:6/15/2009

RICHLAND, Wash. -- DNA might be the blueprint for living things, but proteins are the builders. Researchers trying to understand how and which proteins work together have developed a new crosslinking tool that is small and unobtrusive enough to use in live cells. Using the new tool, the scientists have discovered new details about a well-studied complex of proteins known as RNA polymerase. The results suggest the method might uncover collaborations between proteins that are too brief for other techniques to pinpoint.

"Conventional methods used to find interacting proteins have limitations that we are trying to circumvent," said biochemist Uljana Mayer of the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "They also create conditions that are different from those inside cells, so you can't find all the interactions that proteins would normally engage in."

Proteins are the workhorses in an organism's cells. Whole fields of research are dedicated to teasing out which proteins work together to make cells function. For example, drug researchers seek chemicals that disrupt or otherwise change how proteins interact to combat diseases; environmental scientists need to understand how proteins collaborate in ecosystems to make them thrive or fail.

To learn about protein networks, scientists start with a familiar one and use it as bait to find others that work alongside it. To pin down the collaborators, researchers make physical connections between old and new proteins with chemicals called crosslinkers. The sticky crosslinkers will only connect proteins close enough to work together, the thinking goes. But most crosslinkers are too large to squeeze into living cells, are harmful to cells, or link proteins that are neighbors but not coworkers.

To address these issues, Mayer and her PNNL colleagues developed a crosslinking method that uses small crosslinkers whose stickiness can be carefully controlled. To find cowork
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Contact: Mary Beckman
mary.beckman@pnl.gov
509-375-3688
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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