Chemists revealforce within you

Chemists reveal the force within you

3:01 AM, 10th November 2011
Chemists reveal the force within you
The new technique for visualizing cellular forces uses a standard fluorescence microscope.


ATLANTA, US: A new method for visualizing mechanical forces on the surface of a cell, reported in Nature Methods, provides the first detailed view of those forces, as they occur in real-time.

“Now we’re able to measure something that’s never been measured before: The force that one molecule applies to another molecule across the entire surface of a living cell and as this cell moves and goes about its normal processes,” said Khalid Salaita, Assistant Professor, Biomolecular Chemistry, Emory University. “And we can visualize these forces in a time-lapsed movie.”

Salaita developed the florescent-sensor technique with chemistry graduate students Daniel Stabley and Carol Jurchenko, and undergraduate senior Stephen Marshall.

“Cells are constantly tugging and pushing on their surroundings, and they can even communicate with one another using mechanics. If we want to really understand cells and how they work, we have to understand cell mechanics at a molecular level,” said Salaita.

The researchers demonstrated their technique on the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). They mapped the mechanical strain exerted by EGFR during the early stages of endocytosis. Their experiments provide the first direct evidence that force is exerted during endocytosis.

Mapping such forces may help to diagnose and treat diseases related to cellular mechanics. “It’s known that if EGFR is over-active, that can lead to cancer,” said Salaita. “If we can understand how tugging on EGFR force changes the pathway and whether it plays a role in cancer, it might be possible to design drugs that target this pulling process.”

Several methods have been developed in recent years to study the mechanics of cellular forces, but they have major limitations. The technique developed at Emory is non-invasive, does not modify the cell and can be done with a standard fluorescence microscope. A flexible polymer is chemically modified at both ends. One end gets a fluorescence-based turn-on sensor that will bind to a receptor on the cell surface. The other end is chemically anchored to a microscope slide and a molecule that quenches fluorescence.

“Once a force is applied to the polymer, it stretches out,” explained Salaita. “And as it extends, the distance from the quencher increases and the fluorescent signal turns on and grows brighter. We can determine the force being exerted by measuring the amount of fluorescent light emitted.”

The forces of any individual protein or molecule on the cell surface can be measured using the technique, at far higher spatial and temporal resolutions than was previously possible.

Many mysteries beyond the biology and chemistry of cells may be explained through measuring cellular forces. “Our method can be applied to nearly any receptor, opening the door to rapidly studying chemical and mechanical interactions across the thousands of membrane-bound receptors on the surface of virtually any cell type,” said Salaita. “We hope that measuring cellular forces could then become part of the standard repertoire of biochemical techniques that scientists use to study living systems.”

(C) Emory University News




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