By studying the structure of actin-depolymerising factor 1 (ADF1), a key protein involved in controlling the movement of malaria parasites, the researchers have demonstrated that scientists' decades-long understanding of the relationship between protein structure and cell movement is flawed.
Dr Jake Baum and Mr Wilson Wong from the institute's Infection and Immunity division and Dr Jacqui Gulbis from the Structural Biology division, in collaboration with Dr Dave Kovar from the University of Chicago, US, led the research, which appears in today's edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.Dr Baum said actin-depolymerising factors (ADFs) and their genetic regulators have long been known to be involved in controlling cell movement, including the movement of malaria parasites and movement of cancer cells through the body. Anti-cancer treatments that exploit this knowledge are under development.
"For many years research in yeast, plants and humans has suggested that the ability of ADFs to dismantle actin polymers – effectively disengaging the clutch – required a small molecular 'finger' to break the actin in two," Dr Baum said. "However, when we looked at the malaria ADF1 protein, we were surprised to discover that it lacked this molecular 'finger', yet remarkably was still able to cut the polymers. We discovered that a previously overlooked part of the protein, effectively the 'knuckle' of the finger-like protrusion, was responsible for dismantling the actin; we then discovered this 'hidden' domain was present across all ADFs."
Mr Wong said that the Australian Synchrotron was critical in providing the extraordinary detail that helped the team pinpoint the protein 'knuckle'. "This is the first time a 3D image of the ADF protein has been captured in such detail from any cell type," Mr Wong said. "Imaging the protein structure at such high resolution was critical in proving beyond question the segment of the protein responsible for cutting actin polymers. Obtaining that image would have been impossible without the synchrotron facilities."
Dr Baum said the new knowledge will give researchers a much clearer understanding of one of the fundamental steps governing how cells across all species grow, divide and, importantly, move. "Knowing that this one small segment of the protein is singularly responsible for ADF1 function means that we need to focus on an entirely new target not only for developing anti-malarial treatments, but also other diseases where potential treatments target actin, such as anti-cancer therapeutics," Dr Baum said. "Malaria researchers are normally used to following insights from other biological systems; this is a case of the exception proving the rule: where the malaria parasite, being so unusual, reveals how all other ADFs across nature work."
More than 250 million people contract malaria each year, and almost one million people, mostly children, die from the disease. The malaria parasite has developed resistance to most of the therapeutic agents available for treating the disease, so identifying novel ways of targeting the parasite is crucial.
Dr Baum said that the discovery could lead to development of drugs entirely geared toward preventing malaria infection, without adverse effects on human cells. "One of the primary goals of the global fight against malaria is to develop novel drugs that prevent infection and transmission in all hosts, to break the malaria cycle," Dr Baum said. "There is a very real possibility that, in the future, drugs could be developed that 'jam' this molecular 'clutch', meaning the malaria parasite cannot move and continue to infect cells in any of its conventional hosts, which would be a huge breakthrough for the field."
This project was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).
Liz Williams | EurekAlert!
How brains surrender to sleep
23.06.2017 | IMP - Forschungsinstitut für Molekulare Pathologie GmbH
A new technique isolates neuronal activity during memory consolidation
22.06.2017 | Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.06.2017 | Information Technology