CAMBRIDGE, Mass., June 4, 2009 By applying cutting-edge techniques in single-molecule manipulation, researchers at Harvard University have uncovered a fundamental feedback mechanism that the body uses to regulate the clotting of blood. The finding, which could lead to a new physical, quantitative, and predictive model of how the body works to respond to injury, has implications for the treatment of bleeding disorders.
A team, co-led by Timothy A. Springer, Latham Family Professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital Boston, and Wesley P. Wong, Rowland Junior Fellow and a Principal Investigator at the Rowland Institute at Harvard, reported its discovery about the molecular basis for the feedback loop responsible for hemostasis in the June 5th issue of Science.
"The human body has an incredible ability to heal from life's scrapes and bruises," explains Wong. "A central aspect of this response to damage is the ability to bring bleeding to end, a process known as hemostasis. Yet regulating hemostasis is a complex balancing act."
Too much hemostatic activity can lead to an excess of blood clots, resulting in a potentially deadly condition known as thrombosis. If too little hemostatic activity occurs in the body, a person may bleed to death.
To achieve the proper balance, the body relies on a largely mechanical feedback system that relies on the miniscule forces applied by the circulation system on a molecular "force sensor" known as the A2 domain of the blood clotting protein von Willebrand factor (VWF).
By manipulating single molecules of this A2 domain, the researchers found that the A2 domain acts as a highly sensitive force sensor, responding to very weak tensile forces by unfolding, and losing much of its complex three-dimensional organization. This unfolding event allows the cutting of the molecule by an enzyme known as ADAMTS13.
"In the body, these cutting events decrease
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