" "
Satellite Banner
Technology
Networks
Scientific Communities
 
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article
  News
Return

Proteins in their Natural Habitat

Published: Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Last Updated: Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Bookmark and Share
Proteins which reside in the membrane of cells play a key role in many biological processes and provide targets for more than half of current drug treatments.

These membrane proteins are notoriously difficult to study in their natural environment, but scientists at the University of Oxford have now developed a technique to do just that, combining the use of sophisticated nanodiscs and mass spectrometers.

Mass spectrometry is a technique which allows scientists to probe molecular interactions. Using a high-tech 'nanoflow' system, molecules are transmitted into the instrument in charged water droplets, which then undergo evaporation releasing molecules into the gas phase of the mass spectrometer.

But membrane proteins are difficult to measure in this way, as they are hydrophobic: they don't dissolve in water. One way to overcome this problem is to mix them with detergents. Detergents work by surrounding insoluble substances with a water-friendly shell. Each detergent particle has two ends – the heads are attracted to water and the tails are attracted to insoluble regions of the membrane protein. The tails stick to the hydrophobic parts, leaving a shell of water-loving heads around the outside. The molecules can then easily dissolve in water.

Although detergents can be used to get membrane proteins to dissolve in water, these artificial chemicals can damage protein structures and do not faithfully mimic the natural environments in which they are normally found. The Oxford group, led by Professor Carol Robinson, has utilised a technique which allows them to study membrane protein structures by mass spectrometry from their natural environment. Their new method, published in Nature Methods, uses tiny disc-like structures made from molecules called lipids, as first author Dr Jonathan Hopper explains:

'Membrane proteins are naturally found in flat structures called lipid bilayers. Lipids are a bit like nature's detergents, in that they have water-loving heads and fat-loving tails. Lipid bilayers are made up of two sheets of lipids with their tails pointing inwards.

'The nanodiscs we use are made from lipids, the same material that membrane proteins occupy in the body. It's essentially as if you took a round cookie cutter to remove a section of the natural bilayer, so the conditions are just like they would be in the body. The discs are stabilised by wrapping a belt of proteins around them to keep the exposed lipid tails from the water.

'Aside from the nanodiscs, we actually got great results from 'bicelles', which are made in a similar way.  The main difference is that instead of putting a belt of proteins around the edge, we plug the gap with short-chain lipids instead. This actually gives us much more control over the size and structure of the disc.'

These innovations enable researchers to study membrane protein structures using sophisticated mass spectrometry, in environments as close to the human body as possible.

'I am delighted that this has worked, it is completely unexpected given the difficulties we have had in the past in studying these complexes in lipidic environments,' says study leader Professor Carol Robinson. 'The breakthrough enables us to study membrane proteins in a natural environment for the first time. We believe this will have a great impact on structural biology approaches, and could in turn lead to better-designed drug treatments.'


Further Information

Join For Free

Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,900+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More Than 4,200+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters


Sign In



Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into TechnologyNetworks.com you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

UK Scientists to Begin Trial of Potential HIV Cure
Scientists and clinicians from five leading UK universities will begin a groundbreaking clinical trial next year to test a possible cure for HIV infection.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Scientific News
Retractable Protein Nanoneedles
The ability to control the transfer of molecules through cellular membranes is an important function in synthetic biology; a new study from researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and Harvard Medical School (HMS) introduces a novel mechanical method for controlling release of molecules inside cells.
Leukemia’s Surroundings Key to its Growth
Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have discovered that a type of cancer found primarily in children can grow only when signaled to do so by other nearby cells that are noncancerous.
Common Cell Transformed into Master Heart Cell
By genetically reprogramming the most common type of cell in mammalian connective tissue, researchers at the University of Wisconsin—Madison have generated master heart cells — primitive progenitors that form the developing heart.
‘Smelling’ Prostate Cancer
A research team from the University of Liverpool and the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) has reached an important milestone towards creating a urine diagnostic test for prostate cancer that could mean that invasive diagnostic procedures that men currently undergo eventually become a thing of the past.
Genetic Mutation that Prevents Diabetes Complications
The most significant complications of diabetes include diabetic retinal disease, or retinopathy, and diabetic kidney disease, or nephropathy. Both involve damaged capillaries.
Criminal Justice Alcohol Program Linked to Decreased Mortality
Institute has announced that in the criminal justice alcohol program deaths dropped by 4.2 percent over six years.
Charting Kidney Cancer Metabolism
Changes in cell metabolism are increasingly recognized as an important way tumors develop and progress, yet these changes are hard to measure and interpret. A new tool designed by MSK scientists allows users to identify metabolic changes in kidney cancer tumors that may one day be targets for therapy.
Improving Regenerative Medicine
Lab-created stem cells may lack key characteristics, UCLA research finds.
Tick Genome Reveals Secrets of a Successful Bloodsucker
NIH has announced that decipher the genome of the blacklegged tick which could lead to new tick control methods.
"Dark Side" of the Transcriptome
New approach to quantifying gene "read-outs" reveals important variations in protein synthesis and has implications for understanding neurodegenerative diseases.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
 
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,900+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
4,200+ scientific videos
Close
Premium CrownJOIN TECHNOLOGY NETWORKS PREMIUM FOR FREE!