December 2007 — All cells are surrounded by protective, fatty membranes.In the cell
membrane there are thousands of membrane proteins that transport
nutritional substances, ions, and water through the membrane. Membrane
proteins are also necessary for cells to recognize each other in the
body and for a nervous system, for example, to be formed. Researchers
at Stockholm University in Sweden have now managed to reveal the
“molecular code” that governs the insertion of proteins in the cell
About 25 percent of all proteins in a cell are found in the cell
membrane. Since they regulate all communication between the inside of
the cell and the surrounding environment, many membrane proteins are
crucial to the life of the cell. Disruptions of their functions often
lead to diseases of various kinds. For the drug industry, membrane
proteins are high priority “drug targets.” This work is reported in an
article being published on December 13 in the journal Nature.
To be suitable for deployment in the fatty cell membrane, all membrane
proteins must be lipophiles (“fat-lovers”). All cells have special
machinery for producing and dealing with “fatty” proteins and to see to
it that they are deployed in proper manner in the cell membrane. The
Stockholm University scientists have developed a method for the
detailed study of the properties of a membrane protein that are
required for it to be recognized by the cell machinery. A couple of
years ago the research team published a first article in Nature in
which they managed to show that there is a “fat threshold” that
determines whether a protein can be deployed to a membrane or not. In
this new study they have fully revealed the molecular code that governs
the structure of membrane proteins.
“Now that we have deciphered the code, we can determine with a high
degree of certainty which parts of a protein will fasten in the
membrane.” says Gunnar von Heijne.
This new knowledge will help researchers all over the world who are
trying to understand more about the cell and its membrane, not least in
the drug industry.
“Interest in membrane proteins is at a peak right now, and our findings
can be key pieces of the puzzle for pharmaceutical chemists working
with drug design, for example,” says Gunnar von Hejne.
Source : Stockholm University