From fungi to humans, 'smart valves' assist communication within, between cells

phys.org | 1/31/2018 | Staff
blacky (Posted by) Level 3
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Googling "SNARE proteins," neuroscientist Edward Chapman gets a screenful of images showing corkscrew-shaped molecules, intertwined as they seize the outer membranes of two cells. "They did not give us credit at Wikipedia, but we drew that cartoon," he says, with delicious irony.

"And now we've proven that this model is wrong," he says. "The textbooks need to be adjusted."

SNARE - Fusion - Pores - Compounds - Membranes

SNARE proteins create "fusion pores" that allow compounds to pass through membranes that divide cells or subcomponents within cells. SNAREs build fusion pores in all organisms containing a cell nucleus, a range that starts with many single-celled life forms and moves up through plants and animals to humans.

The pores, and the SNARE proteins that construct them, probably evolved more than a billion years ago, Chapman says.

Structure - Function - Fusion - Pores - Matters

What that means is that the structure and function of fusion pores matters fundamentally in biology, says Chapman, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and professor of neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"Some folks think of a cell as a bag of protoplasm, but in reality, it contains hundreds or thousands of organelles, each surrounded by a membrane," he says. "All of these organelles contain or process various substances, and respond to myriad signals. To emit or take up a substance, these containers need to build a fusion pore across membranes."

Nobel - Prize - Discovery - SNAREs - Topic

In 2013, the Nobel Prize was awarded for the discovery of SNAREs and the topic of membrane fusion. According to conventional wisdom, when a fusion pore forms, the SNARE proteins lock into place with a zipper-like action, creating a structure that essentially never closes.

That is to say, they form a pipe, a "dumb" connection across normally impermeable membranes.

Research - Jan - Nature - Chapman - Research

But in research published online Jan. 31, 2018 in Nature, Chapman's research group shows that the pores function less like pipes and more like highly sophisticated, sensitive and trigger-happy valves that...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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