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UH physicists study behavior of enzyme linked to Alzheimer's, cancer
Date:11/19/2010

ically study proteins in water, but such test tube research is limited because it cannot gauge how a protein actually functions inside a crowded cell, where it can interact with DNA, ribosomes and other molecules.

The PGK enzyme plays a key role in the process of glycolysis, which is the metabolic breakdown of glucose and other sugars that releases energy in the form of ATP. ATP molecules are basically like packets of fuel that power biological molecular motors. This conversion of food to energy is present in every organism, from yeast to humans. Malfunction of the glycolytic pathway has been linked to Alzheimer's disease and cancer. Patients with reduced metabolic rates in the brain have been found to be at risk for Alzheimer's disease, while out-of-control metabolic rates are believed to fuel the growth of malignant tumor cells.

Scientists had previously believed that a PGK enzyme shaped like Pac-Man had to undergo a dynamic hinge motion to perform its metabolic function. However, in the computer models mimicking the cell interior, Cheung found that the enzyme was already functioning in its closed Pac-Man state in the jam-packed surrounding. In fact, the enzyme was 15 times more active in the tight spaces of a crowded cell. This shows that in cell-like conditions the function of a protein is more active and efficient than in a dilute condition, such as a test tube. This finding can drastically transform how scientists view proteins and their behavior when the environment of a cell is taken into account.

"This work deepens researchers' understanding of how proteins function, or don't function, in real cell conditions," Samiotakis said. "By understanding the impact of a crowded cell on the structure, dynamics of proteins can help researchers design efficient therapeutic means that will work better inside cells, with the goal to prevent diseases and improve human health."

Cheung and Samiotakis' computer simulations performed u
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Contact: Lisa Merkl
lkmerkl@uh.edu
713-743-8192
University of Houston
Source:Eurekalert  

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