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New laser technique opens doors for drug discovery
Date:3/15/2011

A new laser technique has demonstrated that it can measure the interactions between proteins tangled in a cell's membrane and a variety of other biological molecules. These extremely difficult measurements can aid the process of drug discovery.

Scientists estimate that about 30 percent of the 7,000 proteins in a human cell reside in the cell's membrane and that these membrane proteins initiate 60 to 70 percent of the signals that control the operation of the cell's molecular machinery. As a result, about half of the drugs currently on the market target membrane proteins.

Despite their importance, they are difficult to study. . Individual membrane proteins are extremely hard to purify, so scientists have very little structural information about them. In addition, existing methods to measure their activity have serious limitations. Most existing assays remove the membranes from their natural environment or modify the membranes in a variety of different ways, such as attaching fluorescent labels, in order to analyze membrane protein activity.

"In addition to being expensive and time-consuming, these modifications can affect the target membrane's function in unpredictable ways," said Vanderbilt Professor of Chemistry Darryl Bornhop, who developed the new technique.

By contrast, in an article published online March 13 by the journal Nature Biotechnology, Bornhop's research group and their collaborators at The Scripps Research Institute, report that the laser-based technique, called backscattering interferometry (BSI), can precisely measure the binding force between membrane proteins and both large and small molecules in a natural environment.

"This is a powerful tool and a major advance in measuring membrane protein interactions," said Lawrence Marnett, director of the Vanderbilt Institute of Chemical Biology and Mary Geddes Stahlman Professor of Cancer Research. He was not involved in the study but is planni
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Contact: David F. Salisbury
david.salisbury@vanderbilt.edu
615-343-6803
Vanderbilt University
Source:Eurekalert  

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