For cells to coordinate complicated processes, like their migration through tissues, networks of proteins must work together. It is now clear that the protein machines that control such processes in cells are extremely complex.

In fact, research into the complex protein machinery that controls cell adhesion is revealing much more about the biology of cells – and diseases like cancer – than we had anticipated.

Networks of adhesion proteins and their interactions in cells // Image by Adam Byron

Networks of adhesion proteins and their interactions in cells

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Some cancer treatments target certain proteins in cancer cells to stop the cancer cells growing, dividing and spreading. These targeted therapies have dramatically improved the outcomes of many people with cancer, including those with breast cancer.

Unfortunately, patients can develop resistance to targeted therapies and then the drugs no longer work as they should.

This is a major clinical problem for breast cancer patients, so new approaches to overcome it are desperately needed.

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Stem cells have the amazing capacity to develop into different types of cells in the body, which is essential for the development of an embryo, for example. Stem cells also have the ability to renew themselves, dividing to replenish other cells and to replace damaged tissue.

Their remarkable regenerative properties offer hope for new treatments for disease

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Is there a link between kidney disease and the proteins released by kidney cells? And does the underlying genetic code influence this link?

In case you missed it a couple of months ago, work from the Rachel Lennon lab at the University of Manchester has been addressing these questions.

A network of extracellular proteins in kidney glomeruli // Image by Adam Byron

A network of extracellular proteins in kidney glomeruli

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Cells of the body are constantly communicating with their surroundings. This integration of cells with their local environment is mediated by proteins on the surface of cells called integrin adhesion receptors. But how these proteins precisely control normal cellular functions is not well understood. In fact, it turns out to be extremely complex.

In new work, this complexity of cellular signalling is analysed. Distilling down the deluge of data allowed us to discover a key collection of components that congregate at sites of cell adhesion. These proteins play important roles in allowing cells to sense their surroundings, move and survive. When these processes go wrong, diseases like cancer can develop.

Our work is also featured on the cover of this month’s issue of Nature Cell Biology, with an image by Ed Horton showing all the proteins we analysed. See if you can spot your favourite adhesion protein!

Nature Cell Biology cover, 2015, vol. 17 (no. 12) // Image by Ed Horton

Nature Cell Biology cover, 2015, vol. 17 (no. 12)

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