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Red and blue stained microscopy image of cell

How does a cell’s physical environment influence its form and function? Scientist already know that cells possess numerous mechanosensitive proteins that are constantly assessing the cell’s mechanical environment, but how the cell processes this information and elicits a response is less well understood.

Now, in a new study published in the Journal of Cell Biology, Professor Ellie Tzima and Associate Professor John Reader use a multi-disciplinary approach to identify a protein that is critical for cells to respond to their physical environment by acting as a molecular bridge between the mechanosensory and protein synthesis machineries.

A complex process

Proteins are the building blocks of life. Making new proteins is a complex process that requires intricate co-ordination of large protein complexes, including ribosomes and multiple regulatory proteins. Together, the biological machinery that produce proteins forms one of the most ancient biological systems.

Cells are sensitive to changes in their environment and respond to external stresses. This response includes changes to the protein landscape of the cell, however, how this is achieved is not well understood. One such stress is physical or mechanical tension. The ability of cells to sense mechanical cues is critical to cellular health and homeostasis.

Disruptions in such mechano- pathways and responses are linked to the pathogenesis of numerous human diseases including cancer and cardiovascular disease.

The team were able to identify a novel role for a protein, which forms part of the protein translational machinery, in determining mechanical responses and homeostasis of the cell. Thus, providing a molecular bridge between two fundamental biological processes; protein synthesis and mechanobiology.

It is fascinating to find a protein that is involved in two such ancient and fundamental biological processes. 
- Dr Adam Keen

Dr Adam Keen , first author of the study said “This study opens the door to a wide range of potential avenues of investigation including how this protein is involved in pathogenesis of cardiovascular disease and whether it could be used as a therapeutic target.”

Professor Ellie Tzima said: “For decades, scientists have known that ribosomes, the work horse of the cell responsible for decoding mRNA into proteins, are nestled right next to the cytoskeleton. The reasons for this co-habitation have, however, been a mystery. Our work has unveiled how these ancient cellular machineries communicate with each other.”

This work was undertaken in collaboration with researchers from Imperial College London, UK. The major funders were the BBSRC, Wellcome and the British Heart Foundation.

Read the full paper. 

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