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

degree of structural rigidity, like girders in a building. They start in the middle of the cell, near the nucleus, and they extend to the outside of the cell," Ligon said. "We're looking for things that make the microtubules different from one another, things that could serve as road signs along the way."

The surface of a microtubule is textured with a series of evenly spaced bumps. Molecular "motors" carrying various cargo use repeated chemical reactions to travel from one bump to the next, moving along the length of the microtubule. Scientists already know that the bumps are not symmetrical, giving the "road" a different surface profile in each direction. The motors must be shaped appropriately for the surface of the road, and motors that can travel in one direction have a different shape from motors that can travel in the reverse direction. This polarity seems to be one of the main navigational markers in the system.

But, Ligon said, the shape of the individual bumps can also be altered on the fly, which may allow the cell to re-route cargo while it is in transit, if necessary.

"We think that these modifications are one of the key ways that the cell coordinates its traffic sending different cargoes to different parts of the cell," Ligon said. "To use an analogy, the street signs seem to be changing depending on where the cell needs traffic to go. That may be giving the cell a way to respond to a changing environment."

Ligon believes that another road sign may be in the form of modifications seen on the inside of the microtubule.

"Most of the modifications we see on microtubules are on the surface of the straw, but there's one in the middle of the straw that's just completely baffled people for decades," Ligon said. "This particular modification is highly conserved evolutionarily, which means it's in cells from giardia (a single celled intestinal parasite) to people, and that suggests it's important. But people ha
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Contact: Mary Martialay
maritm12@rpi.edu
518-276-2146
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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