HOUSTON, Nov. 19, 2010 University of Houston (UH) physicists are using complex computer simulations to illuminate the workings of a crucial protein that, when malfunctioning, may cause Alzheimer's and cancer.
Margaret Cheung, assistant professor of physics at UH, and Antonios Samiotakis, a physics Ph.D. student, described their findings in a paper titled "Structure, function, and folding of phosphoglycerate kinase (PGK) are strongly perturbed by macromolecular crowding," published in a recent issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, one of the world's most-cited multidisciplinary scientific serials. The research was funded by a nearly $224,000 National Science Foundation grant in support of Samiotakis' dissertation.
"Imagine you're walking down the aisle toward an exit after a movie in a crowded theatre. The pace of your motion would be slowed down by the moving crowd and narrow space between the aisles. However, you can still maneuver your arm, stretch out and pat your friend on the shoulder who slept through the movie," Cheung said. "This can be the same environment inside a crowded cell from the viewpoint of a protein, the workhorse of all living systems. Proteins always 'talk' to each other inside cells, and they pass information about what happens to the cell and how to respond promptly. Failure to do so may cause uncontrollable cell growth that leads to cancer or cause malfunction of a cell that leads to Alzheimer's disease. Understanding a protein inside cells in terms of structures and enzymatic activity is important to shed light on preventing, managing or curing these diseases at a molecular level."
Cheung, a theoretical physicist, and Martin Gruebele, her experimental collaborator at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, led a team that unlocked this mystery. Studying the PGK enzyme, Cheung used computer models that simulate the environment inside a cell. Biochemists typ
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University of Houston