Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

A Flash of Insight: Chemist Uses Lasers to See Proteins at Work

05.07.2011
Binghamton University researcher Christof Grewer thinks he has an important brain transport protein – glutamate transporter – figured out. And he’s using a novel approach to spy on them by taking aim with lasers.

Grewer, a biophysical chemist, studies glutamate transport proteins, miniscule components of our brains that move glutamate among cells. Glutamate, an important molecule in cellular metabolism, is also a neurotransmitter. He explains his research on these tiny proteins in the brain using an analogy: imagine never having seen a car before and trying to determine what makes the vehicle run.

“We would be interested in seeing what happens when the car is moving, and we’d take pictures of that,” he says. “We’d see the pistons moving, and that would be the beginning of understanding.”

Scientists know the transport proteins are important, and they know they move glutamate in and out of cells through a sort of door in the cell wall, known as a glutamate transporter. But exactly how the proteins trigger those doors in the cell wall, and what makes them move glutamate to the inside or outside of a cell, is unknown.

Learning how those triggers function could have major implications for human health. For example, during a stroke, when blood and oxygen to the brain are restricted, brain cells release glutamate into the space surrounding them. That starts a toxic chain that can kill brain cells and harm certain brain functions. Knowing how the glutamate molecules are transported through cell walls could one day lead to drugs that help or halt the transport.

Grewer — one of perhaps two dozen researchers in the world who work on this problem — switches analogies as he continues describing the way these proteins move.

“Think about people being transported in an elevator in a tall building,” he says. “So in order for that to work, the door of the elevator has to open, and then the person has to step into the elevator. And then the elevator brings you to a higher floor, and then the door has to open, and the person has to walk out.”

In this case, glutamate molecules are the people. The elevator cars are the glutamate transporters. And the electricity and wires that move elevator doors are — well, that’s what he’s trying to figure out. Grewer’s brainstorm was to create a method that uses lasers to trigger the transports’ action. By controlling when the movement happens, he can document it. It all goes back to his analogy of photographing a car’s pistons. Taking snapshots may illuminate how the transporters and glutamate molecules work together.

Grewer stumbled onto the glutamate transporters. When he was a graduate student in physical chemistry at Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University in Frankfurt, Germany, his research focused on chemistry and light. His introduction to biochemistry — and to glutamate receptors — came during a post-doctoral fellowship at

Cornell University.

“We were trying to activate these receptors on a very fast time scale,” he says. “It’s not that easy to do.”

His background in chemistry and physics brought fresh insight to the lab. What if, he thought, a flash of light could help trigger the transport process? By timing the reactions, the researchers could better capture what happens during the glutamate transfer.

“They were so interesting to me that I just had to stay with them,” Grewer says of glutamate transporters. “I thought, that is just the most amazing thing to study.”

Most biochemical research on the brain focuses on possible cures and many researchers are experimenting with known drugs to judge their effect on brain function.

In most proteins, and in biology, researchers know what the genetic code and the DNA look like. The number of proteins in the body is also a known factor. But what’s not unclear is how these proteins function. And that’s where Grewer’s work comes in. He has become a pioneer in the usage of lasers, which although used on other types of proteins, has not been used before in this area of study.

For more Binghamton University research news, visit http://discovere.binghamton.edu/

Ryan Yarosh | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.binghamton.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht New risk factors for anxiety disorders
24.02.2017 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

nachricht Stingless bees have their nests protected by soldiers
24.02.2017 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Stingless bees have their nests protected by soldiers

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

New risk factors for anxiety disorders

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

MWC 2017: 5G Capital Berlin

24.02.2017 | Trade Fair News

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>