Archives for posts with tag: cell biology

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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A press release has been issued by Cancer Research UK about a paper from the University of Edinburgh on the protein focal adhesion kinase (or FAK) and how it modulates the immune system in cancer to allow tumour cells to grow.

A class of experimental drug treatments already in clinical trials could also help the body’s immune system to fight cancer.

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When cells adhere to and interact with their surroundings in tissues, they generate and transmit molecular signals that control how the cells behave, such as whether they move, grow or divide. Molecules that carry these signals are often modified temporarily to switch the signals on or off. One important type of biochemical modification is phosphorylation, which plays a role in many cell signalling processes, including cell adhesion.

Adhesion signalling molecules activated by phosphorylation // Image by Adam Byron

Adhesion signalling molecules activated by phosphorylation

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Integrins are a family of adhesion proteins that interact with and sense neighbouring cells and the surrounding extracellular environment. They project from the surface of cells like antennae and transmit signals back and forth between the cell and its surroundings – this signalling controls a wide range of important cellular functions.

A network of cell adhesion proteins in the constellation of the proteome // Image by Adam Byron

A network of cell adhesion proteins in the constellation of the proteome

Amazingly, to signal, the integrin molecules change shape in the cell membrane, twisting from a compact “inactive” position to an extended “active” position. Depending on the shape of the integrins, different proteins attach to them to assist in the signalling process. But which proteins bind to different conformations of integrins, and how does this change the behaviour of a cell in response to its surroundings?

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Cells are connected to their surroundings by cell adhesion complexes, collections of interacting proteins that transmit cellular signals between the outside and the inside of the cell. This signalling allows a cell to sense its environment and respond in remarkable ways, such as by moving, secreting proteins or changing into a different type of cell. But how do cell adhesion complexes receive and integrate these cellular signals?

Network of adhesion complex changes upon cytoskeletal disruption // Image by Adam Byron // Adapted from Ng et al. (2014) PLoS One 9, e115213

Network of adhesion complex changes upon cytoskeletal disruption

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