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New molecular pathway could reveal how cells stick together

Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found a new pathway by which cells change their adhesive properties. With a $1.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, they plan to fill in the details behind how cells decide to stick to a surface, which could lead to a better understanding of the importance of this pathway to the physiology and development of organisms.

Cells must interact with each other to produce system responses, like the remodeling of a tissue during development or for orchestration of an integrated immune response. One way they do this is by physically attaching to one another and to surfaces. Andrea Page-McCaw, assistant professor of biology at Rensselaer and principal investigator for the project, has focused on matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) -- proteins that play a role in development and immunity.

"MMPs have gotten a lot of attention primarily because of their regulation in a lot of disease states, most notably cancer and other inflammatory conditions," Page-McCaw said. Yet the normal function of these proteins is not well understood.

The job of MMPs is to cleave other proteins that reside in the space in between cells. Page-McCaw has previously identified a specific protein, called ninjurin, that gets cut by MMP. Now she is working out the interplay between MMPs and ninjurin, with the goal of characterizing this previously unknown pathway by which cells signal to each other.

Ninjurin is anchored to the surface of cells, but after being cut by MMP, a ninjurin segment travels to adjacent cells and signals them to alter their adhesive state. Page-McCaw published these findings earlier this year and was recently awarded an individual investigator research grant to extend her work from cells in a Petri dish to an organism. The grant, from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, is for $ 1.4 million over five years.

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Source:Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute


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