Sophie Hesketh

Trainspotting within the cell’s antenna

New research, published in Cell, illuminates the molecular “trains” that transport cargoes essential for human health and development.

Virtually every cell in the human body grows an antenna-like structure on its surface, which is used to receive vital signals from the body and the outside world. Perturbations in this process cause a wide range of human disorders spanning loss of eyesight, cystic kidneys, breathing problems, and infertility, among other conditions.

New research from the Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology has shed new light on the molecular “trains” that underpin this process, and how they misfunction in disease. Using cryo-election microscopy, a powerful technique for determining the three-dimensional shape of biological molecules, the team was able to see the structure of the proteins that make up the trains and how they carry their vital cargoes. Cell biology experiments showed that the range of cargoes transported by the trains is even wider than anticipated. The findings will help researchers to interpret patient mutations in the proteins that cause disease and design new experiments.

This research, funded by the Wellcome Trust and BBSRC with co-first authors Dr. Sophie Hesketh and Dr. Aakash Mukhopadhyay and co-senior authors Dr. Katerina Toropova and Dr. Anthony Roberts, was published in Cell on 2 December 2022: https://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(22)01422-2

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