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14th December 2015

Proteins discovered tell body cells how to move and feel

Scientists from the University of Manchester have discovered a group of proteins that enable body cells to move and feel
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A new study from a University of Manchester team has shown how a collection of proteins allow cells in the body to move and feel. The discovery, published in the journal Nature Cell Biology, found that a group of 60 proteins enable body cells to sense differences in their environment and communicate this information to each other.

All the different kinds of cells in our bodies react differently to different surfaces and environments. For example, tumour cells move more slowly on soft surfaces in comparison to harder surfaces. Stem cells can also develop into entirely different cells depending on the environment that they are in. Until now, however, the way cells do this—by sensing their environment and developing accordingly, has remained largely a mystery.

The study focused on a group of transmembrane receptors called integrins. These normally function by providing a scaffold for interactions between cells, or between a cell and the extracellular matrix. Once activated, integrins send signals in order to trigger a variety of chemical pathways that can result in many responses, such as changes to a cell shape which add more receptors to a cell membrane, or helping with an immune response. Proteins can cluster around integrins during these interactions.

The study assembled global data of proteins in order to understand the workings of the integrin protein clusters. They found a group of 60 proteins that cluster around integrins. Ed Horton, a member of the team, said that these proteins are “the essential mediators of the information exchange between integrins and the outside world.”

The result of this research is the new knowledge that integrins work with the 60 proteins in clusters to coordinate functions, hopefully providing a new avenue for research for scientists. This knowledge could be especially useful in the case regarding diseases with tumorous cells such as cancer.

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