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Physicists help biologists to understand protein folding
Date:6/17/2010

(Santa Barbara, Calif.) Physicists at UC Santa Barbara have created a microscopic device to assist biologists in making very fast molecular measurements that aid the understanding of protein folding. This development may help elucidate biological processes associated with diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Since proteins in the body perform different functions according to their shape, the folding process is considered a key area of study.

Using a microfabricated fluid mixing device built at UCSB's nanofabrication facility, UCSB physicists and their collaborators from the University of Zurich have made the first sub-second, single-molecule measurements of an essential biological molecule known as a chaperonin. The results are published in this week's online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The genes encoded in DNA contain chemical sequences for proteins, which, once they have been synthesized in the cell, fold into molecular machines that perform the basic functions of living things," said Everett Lipman, co-author and assistant professor of physics at UCSB. "Many proteins can fold on their own, but others are prone to misfolding and aggregation, which are thought to cause neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's."

Chaperonins are known to assist the folding of other proteins, called substrates, and to prevent aggregation, Lipman explained. GroEL, a member of a large family of chaperonins, works in concert with GroES to encapsulate a substrate protein, isolating it as it folds. Although this process has been studied previously, the mechanism by which the chaperonin functions or fails to function is not yet understood.

Single-molecule experiments provide information about protein folding that would otherwise be obscured by averaging signals from the many billions of unsynchronized molecules in a typical ensemble experiment. Until now, the slow speed of manu
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Contact: Gail Gallessich
gail.g@ia.ucsb.edu
805-893-7220
University of California - Santa Barbara
Source:Eurekalert

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