Millions of biochemical reactions per second maintain our lives. Proteins jostle and collide in a never-ending domino effect of crucial tasks.
“Without proteins moving between different compartments in cells, we would not be able to breathe. We would not be able to digest food. We would not be able to think or feel. We would not be able to live,” said Eileen M. Lafer, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and structural biology at The University of Texas Health Science Center, now called UT Health San Antonio.
Dr. Lafer, with investigators from The University of Texas at Austin and The University of California at San Diego, co-authored research published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Jeanne Stachowiak, Ph.D., of UT Austin led the groundbreaking study, which is expected to alter scientists’ understanding of how cellular membranes break into smaller pieces, generating transport vesicles which allow proteins to relocate between cellular compartments.
This movement of proteins is called vesicular transport. It is the essential biological process whereby proteins, and also lipids, travel between compartments.
The study team made a fundamental discovery.
“We observed protein collisions at the membrane surface generating forces that drive membranes to separate into smaller vesicles,” Dr. Lafer said. “While previously it was believed that only proteins with certain shapes could promote membrane separation or fission, this work demonstrates that any protein, irrespective of its structure, can contribute to this process. This suggests that many more proteins than previously believed are likely to participate in this essential cellular process.”
Wilton T. Sneada, Carl C. Haydena, Avinash K. Gadoka, Chi Zhaoa, Eileen M. Laferb, Padmini Rangamanic, and Jeanne C. Stachowiaka,d,1
aDepartment of Biomedical Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712; bDepartment of Biochemistry and Structural Biology, Center for Biomedical Neuroscience, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, San Antonio, TX 78229; cDepartment of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093; dInstitute for Cellular and Molecular Biology, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712