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'Unnatural' chemical allows Salk researchers to watch protein action in brain cells
Date:7/7/2011

LA JOLLA, CA - Researchers at the Salk Institute have been able to genetically incorporate "unnatural" amino acids, such as those emitting green fluorescence, into neural stem cells, which then differentiate into brain neurons with the incandescent "tag" intact.

They say this new technique, described in the June 16 online issue of Stem Cells, may help scientists probe the mysteries of many different kinds of stem cells in humans as well as the cells they produce. This could be a boon to both basic and clinical research, such as helping to speed development of stem cell-based regenerative medicine.

"Stem cells hold great potential for the treatment of various diseases, yet it has been hard to study how they self renew and produce all of the body's cells," says the study's senior author, Dr. Lei Wang, assistant professor and Frederick B. Rentschler Developmental Chair in the Chemical Biology and Proteomics Laboratory.

"The ability to genetically incorporate unnatural amino acids in stem cell proteins will accelerate our understanding the signaling networks that control these stem cells." he says, Thorough understanding of these mechanisms is critical for safe and reliable stem cell therapeutics.

The study's first author, Dr. Bin Shen, adds that the incorporation of unnatural amino acids "allows researchers to study a particular protein in a living cell or organism, compared to the traditional biochemical methods which are conducted through in vitro settings such as a test tube." These studies can also be conducted in real-time, says Shen, who is a postdoctoral researcher in Wang's lab.

Use of unnatural amino acids (Uaas) was developed by Wang and his colleagues, and was first used in bacteria in 2001, and in mammalian cells in 2007. This is the first report of its use in stem cells.

Salk chemists, molecular and cell biologists, and experts in protein structure collaborated on this study, which was cond
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Contact: Andy Hoang
ahoang@salk.edu
619-861-5811
Salk Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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