Sunday, February 1, 2015

Live Broadcast from Inside the Nerve Cell

News Brief by Catie Donlon 

Recently scientists at the Max Panck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried have discovered a way to visualize proteasomes in intact nerve cells. Proteasomes are enzymes that are responsible for degrading damaged or unnecessary proteins, thereby allowing the cell to function properly. 

Before this study, proteasomes had only been observed in a test tube, but Wolfgang Baumeister and his team were able to structurally characterize these proteins in healthy cells by using electron cryo-tomography. This technique works by quickly cooling the cells to -170 degrees Celsius and then taking many pictures inside the cell. These images are then put together to form a three-dimensional image. Through this technique they observed that the proteasomes have a cap-like structure with regulatory particles on either end. These ends undergo a conformational change when bound to proteins that are soon to be degraded. They were able to characterize these different conformational states. Their technique also discovered that only about 25% of proteasomes actively degrade proteins.

In the future, Wolfgang Baumeister and his team would like to observe proteasomes in cells of people with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or Huntington’s. These diseases are often caused by damaged proteins that clump together in the brain. By observing proteins in these types of cells, they may be able to make important discoveries to better understand such diseases.

 Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry. "Live broadcast from inside the nerve cell." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 January 2015. .

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