Every cell in the body has what James Spudich, PhD, calls "a dynamic city plan" comprised of molecular highways, construction crews, street signs, cars, fuel and exhaust. Maintenance of this highly organized structure is fundamental to the development and function of all cells, Spudich says, and much of it can be understood by figuring out how the molecular motors do the work to keep cells orderly.
Spudich, biochemistry professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and Stanford physics graduate student David M. Altman report in the March 5 issue of Cell how a type of molecular motor provides the rigidity needed by the tiny sensors in the inner ear in order to respond to sound. They found that this motor creates the proper amount of tension in the sensors and anchors itself to maintain that tension.
"Our general feeling is that tension-sensitive machines are at the heart of the dynamic city plan," said Spudich. Their National Institutes of Health-funded study has implications far beyond how an obscure molecule provides rigidity for a protein in the inner ear. A motor able to create structural changes by taking up slack in proteins and clamping down so that they remain in a rigid position may help explain many intricacies of cellular organization, such as how chromosomes line up and separate during cell division.
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