NEW research has shown how microtubule rails inside cells can optimise their structure to improve their efficiency and productivity, according to researchers from the University of Warwick, Warwick, UK. The new understanding of this microscopic ‘railway’ system, which links important destinations inside the cell, could lead to new insights on the mechanisms of a number of human diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, as well as enable scientists to enhance therapies for cancer.
The team discovered that the microtubule rails can adjust depending on whether they are in use. “Imagine if the tracks of a real railway were able to ask themselves, ‘am I useful?’. To find out, they would check how often a railway engine passed along them,” commented Prof Robert Gross, University of Warwick. “It turns out that the microtubule tracks inside cells can do exactly that: they check whether or not they are in contact with tiny railway engines (called kinesins). If they are, then they remain stably in place. If they are not, they disassemble themselves. We think this allows the sections of microtubule rail to be recycled to build new and more useful rails elsewhere in the cell.”
It was also found that the rails slightly lengthen when kinesin railway engines contact them. Using a custom-built microscope, the team detected a 1.6% increase in the length of microtubules attached to kinesins, with a 200-times increase during their lifetime.
It is hoped that these findings will provide the basis for enhanced knowledge of diseases that are associated with abnormalities in microtubule function, including Alzheimer’s, potentially aiding the creation of new treatments. Additionally, as microtubule tracks are targeted by certain cancer drugs, such as taxol, and because the tracks play a vital role in cancer, for example through cell division, the researchers hope the study could ultimately lead to improved cancer therapies.
James Coker, Reporter
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