Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


In “Cell”: Floppy but fast


Inside cells, communication between the nucleus and the cytoplasm is mediated by the constant exchange of thousands of signaling molecules and proteins. Until now, it was unknown how this protein traffic can be so fast and yet precise enough to prevent the passage of unwanted molecules. Through a combination of computer simulations and various experimental techniques, researchers from Germany, France and the UK have solved this puzzle: A very flexible and disordered protein can bind to its receptor within billionths of a second. Their research, led by Edward Lemke (EMBL), Frauke Gräter (HITS), and Martin Blackledge (IBS) is published in “Cell” this week.

Proteins can recognize one another. Each engages very specifically with only a subset of the many different proteins present in the living cell, like a key slotting into a lock. But what if the key is completely flexible, as is the case for so-called intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs)?

The ultrafast and yet selective binding allows the receptor(gold) to rapidly travel through the pore filled with disordered proteins (blue) into the nucleus, while any unwanted molecules are kept out

Image: Mercadante /HITS

The research teams headed by Edward Lemke at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Frauke Gräter at the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS) and Martin Blackledge at the Institut de Biologie Structurale, (IBS) in France, addressed this question in a highly interdisciplinary collaboration, combining molecular simulations, single molecule fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET), nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), stopped flow spectroscopy and in-cell particle tracking.

Unexpectedly, they found that flexible, spaghetti-like proteins can be good – maybe even better than solid protein blocks – at being recognised by multiple partners. And they can do so very fast, while still retaining the high specificity the cell needs. In fact, this could be why these disordered molecules are more common in evolutionarily higher organisms, the researchers surmise.

Researchers had assumed that when an IDP ‘key’ needed to bind to its lock, it rearranged itself to become more rigid, but experiments in the Lemke lab hinted otherwise. “The pioneering single molecule experiments undertaken at EMBL showed for the particular interaction of a receptor with a disordered protein just nothing: the flexible protein stayed as flexible even when bound to its receptor” says Davide Mercadante (HITS).

This prompted him to study the very same interaction on the computer. The surprising result was that the high flexibility of the IDP actually helps it bind to its lock – in this case, a nuclear transport receptor, which shuttles proteins into the nucleus. The simulations even suggested the binding to be ultrafast – faster than any other association of that kind recorded to date.

"The computational data indicated that we might have identified a new ultrafast binding mechanism, but it took us three years to design experiments to prove the kinetics in the lab,” Iker Valle Aramburu (EMBL) recalls. “In the end, we had a remarkably perfect match."

The results now help to understand a long-standing paradox: “For a cell to be viable, molecules must constantly move into and out of its nucleus”, says Edward Lemke (EMBL). ”Our findings explain the so-called transport paradox – that is, how this shuttling can be so very fast while remaining specific so that unwanted molecules cannot pass the barrier that protects our genome.”

The new study suggests that many binding motifs at the surface of the IDP create a highly reactive surface that together with the very high speed of locking and unlocking ensures efficient proof-reading while the receptors to travel so fast through a pore filled with other IDPs.

“This is likely a new paradigm for the recognition of intrinsically disordered proteins.” says Frauke Gräter (HITS). Since around 30-50% of the proteins in human cells are disordered, at least in some regions of the protein, the results may also provide a rationale for how recognition information can be processed very fast in general - which is vital to cells.

Other researchers involved in the study are working at the IBS Grenoble / France, and Cambridge University / UK.

Publication in “Cell”, Plasticity of an ultrafast interaction between nucleoporins and nuclear transport receptors
Sigrid Milles, Davide Mercadante, Iker Valle Aramburu, Malene Ringkjøbing Jensen, Niccolò Banterle, Christine Koehler, Swati Tyagi, Jane Clarke, Sarah L Shammas, Martin Blackledge, Frauke Gräter, Edward A Lemke

Press contact:
Sonia Furtado Neves
EMBL Press Officer & Deputy Head of Communications
Tel.: +49 (0)6221 387 8263
Fax: +49 (0)6221 387 8525

Dr. Peter Saueressig
Head of Communications
Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS)
Phone: +49-6221-533245
Twitter: @HITStudies

Scientific contact:
Dr. Frauke Gräter
Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS)
Phone: +49-6221-533267

Dr. Edward Lemke
Structural and Computational Biology Unit, Cell Biology and Biophysics Unit, (EMBL)
Phone: +49-6221-387 8536

Weitere Informationen: HITS press release Publication in "Cell"

Dr. Peter Saueressig | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>