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Research explores road signs on the intracellular highway
Date:3/19/2013

Troy, N.Y. The interior of every cell within our bodies is crisscrossed with a network of molecular highways upon which nutrients, replacement parts, and other vital materials travel to their appropriate location. The system is immensely complex, and wrong turns are among the cellular malfunctions observed in connection with diseases like Alzheimer's, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease), and polycystic kidney disease.

That much is known. But the road signs that direct traffic on the highways collectively known as the cytoskeleton are a mystery, and now the subject of research for Lee Ligon, associate professor of biology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Ligon has been awarded a five-year $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to unravel one thread of the mystery, testing whether a particular feature scientists have observed on the molecular highways -- called "microtubules" -- could be serving as a directional sign for traffic. Misdirected traffic results in long delays in the delivery of vital intercellular cargo, particularly in nerve cells that extend the full length of the body, and has been observed in conjunction with several neurodegenerative diseases.

"This is a really fundamental project to understand the basic mechanisms of how cells work, and it has ramifications for lots of diseases," Ligon said. "This is basic science, and a lot of the really groundbreaking changes in the way we approach various diseases have started out as these basic science findings."

Ligon's research will focus on microtubules, one of three sets of structural proteins microtubules, actin filaments, and intermediate filaments which make up the cytoskeleton. As their name suggests, microtubules are hollow tubes, each tube composed of 13 separate strings of "protofilaments" joined side by side to form a tube.

"Microtubules are long filaments, hollow like a straw, and with a certain
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Contact: Mary Martialay
maritm12@rpi.edu
518-276-2146
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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