One of the most basic yet least understood processes in our bodies is how cells crawl along tissues. This behavior is essential to the formation of an embryo and other processes, but it must be tightly controlled. A disturbance can lead to the spread of cancer cells or diseases like Spina bifida and Lissencephaly, in which cells fail to reach their proper destinations. Scientists from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Monterotondo have now made a significant step forward in understanding cell motility.
The researchers discovered that a molecule called n-cofilin is critical for regulating cell movement. Most cells in the body are normally locked to their neighbors, tightly embedded in a tissue. Their connections to their neighbors depend on fibers built from long chains of a protein called actin. For an embryo to form properly, certain types of cells have to immigrate to new locations, where they help to form the face, muscles, and skin.
Before cells “set sail”, the actin fibers that bind them to their neighbors are untied and recycled. This not only allows the cells to move, but also changes their form, because actin fibers give the cell its basic shape. Cells carefully regulate the breakdown and assembly of actin fibers because if they are cast off at the wrong time and place, for example in a tumor, cancerous cells may spread throughout the body and form metastases.
Trista Dawson | alfa
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