Researchers at MIT and Carnegie Mellon University are using both civil engineering and bioengineering approaches to study the behavior of a protein associated with progeria, a rare disorder in children that causes extremely rapid aging and usually ends in death from cardiovascular disease before age 16. The disease is marked by the deletion of 50 amino acids near the end of the lamin A protein, which helps support a cell's nuclear membrane.
At MIT, the researchers used molecular modeling — which obeys the laws of physics at the molecular scale — to simulate the behavior of the protein's tail under stress in much the same way a traditional civil engineer might test the strength of a beam: by applying pressure. In this instance, they created exact replicas of healthy and mutated lamin A protein tails, pulling on them to see how they unraveled.
"The application of engineering mechanics to understand the process of rapid aging disease may seem odd, but it actually makes a lot of sense," says Markus Buehler, a professor in MIT's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering who also studies structural proteins found in bone and collagen. In this new research, he worked with Kris Dahl, professor of biomedical engineering and chemical engineering at Carnegie Mellon, and graduate students Zhao Qin of MIT and Agnieszka Kalinowski of Carnegie Mellon. They published their findings in the September issue of the Journal of Structural Biology.
In its natural state, a protein — and its tail — exist in complex folded configurations that differ for each protein type. Many misfolded proteins are associated with diseases. In molecular simulations, Qin and Buehler found that the healthy lamin A protein tail unravels sequentially along its backbone strand, one amino acid at a time.
"It behaved much as if I pulled on a loose thread on my shirt cuff and watched it pull out stitch by stitch," said Qin.
By contrast, the mutant protein tail, when pulled, first breaks nearly in half, forming a large gap near the middle of its folded structure, then begins unfolding sequentially. The MIT scientists deduced that it takes an additional 70 kilocalories per mole (a unit of energy) to straighten the mutant tails, meaning the mutant protein is actually more stable than its healthy counterpart.
At Carnegie Mellon, Dahl and Kalinowski studied the same topic by subjecting lamin A protein tails to heat, which causes proteins to denature or unfold. In their lab, they observed the same pattern of unraveling in healthy and mutated proteins as the MIT engineers did in their atomistic simulation.
Qin then wrote a mathematical equation to convert the temperature differential seen in denaturing the mutant and healthy proteins (4.7 degrees Fahrenheit) to the unit of energy found in the atomistic simulations, finding that the increase in temperature very nearly matched the increase in energy. This agreement, the researchers say, validates the application of the civil engineering methodology to the study of the mutated protein in diseased cells.
The results, however, were counterintuitive to the civil engineers, who are accustomed to flawed materials being weaker — not stronger — than their unimpaired counterparts.
As a component of the cell's nucleoskeleton, lamin A plays an important role in defining the mechanical properties of a cell's nuclear membrane, which must remain flexible enough to easily withstand deformation. In previous work, Dahl had observed that nuclear membranes built from the mutated proteins become very stiff and brittle, which could explain the altered protein-DNA and protein-protein interactions observed in diseased cells.
"Our surprising finding is that the defective mutant structure is actually more stable and more densely packed than the healthy protein," said Buehler. "This is contrary to our intuition that a 'defective' structure is less stable and breaks more easily, which is what engineers would expect in building materials. However, the mechanics of proteins is governed by the principles of nanomechanics, which can be distinct from our conventional understanding of materials at the macro scale."
Marta Buczek | EurekAlert!
Flow of cerebrospinal fluid regulates neural stem cell division
21.05.2018 | Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt
Chemists at FAU successfully demonstrate imine hydrogenation with inexpensive main group metal
21.05.2018 | Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...
A team led by Austrian experimental physicist Rainer Blatt has succeeded in characterizing the quantum entanglement of two spatially separated atoms by observing their light emission. This fundamental demonstration could lead to the development of highly sensitive optical gradiometers for the precise measurement of the gravitational field or the earth's magnetic field.
The age of quantum technology has long been heralded. Decades of research into the quantum world have led to the development of methods that make it possible...
Cardiovascular tissue engineering aims to treat heart disease with prostheses that grow and regenerate. Now, researchers from the University of Zurich, the Technical University Eindhoven and the Charité Berlin have successfully implanted regenerative heart valves, designed with the aid of computer simulations, into sheep for the first time.
Producing living tissue or organs based on human cells is one of the main research fields in regenerative medicine. Tissue engineering, which involves growing...
A team of scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg investigated optically-induced superconductivity in the alkali-doped fulleride K3C60under high external pressures. This study allowed, on one hand, to uniquely assess the nature of the transient state as a superconducting phase. In addition, it unveiled the possibility to induce superconductivity in K3C60 at temperatures far above the -170 degrees Celsius hypothesized previously, and rather all the way to room temperature. The paper by Cantaluppi et al has been published in Nature Physics.
Unlike ordinary metals, superconductors have the unique capability of transporting electrical currents without any loss. Nowadays, their technological...
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
18.05.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
18.05.2018 | Information Technology
18.05.2018 | Information Technology