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The closest look ever at native human tissue
Date:12/5/2007

Seeing proteins in their natural environment and interactions inside cells has been a long-standing goal. Using an advanced microscopy technique called cryo-electron tomography, researchers from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory [EMBL] have visualised proteins responsible for cell-cell contacts for the first time. In this weeks issue of Nature they publish the first 3D image of human skin at molecular resolution and reveal the molecular Velcro-like organisation that interlinks cells.

This is a real breakthrough in two respects, says Achilleas Frangakis, group leader at EMBL. Never before has it been possible to look in three dimensions at a tissue so close to its native state at such a high resolution. We can now see details at the scale of a few millionths of a millimetre. In this way we have gained a new view on the interactions of molecules that underlie cell adhesion in tissues a mechanism that has been disputed over decades.

So far, the only information available about a proteins position and interactions in a cell was based on either light microscopy images at poor resolution or techniques that remove proteins from their natural context. Frangakis and his group have been developing a technique called cryo-electron tomography, with which a cell or tissue is instantly frozen in its natural state and then examined with an electron micro-scope. Electron microscopy normally requires tissue to be treated with chemicals or coated in metal, a procedure that disturbs the natural state of a sample. With cyro-electron tomography, images are taken of the untreated sample from different directions and assembled into an accurate 3D image by a computer.

The researchers applied this technique to observe proteins that are crucial for the integrity of tissues and organs like the skin and the heart, but also play an important role in cell proliferation. These proteins, called cadherins, are anchored in cell membranes and interact w
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Contact: Anna-Lynn Wegener
wegener@embl.de
0049-622-138-7452
European Molecular Biology Laboratory  
Source:Eurekalert

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