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Most people can name at least a few bones of the human body, but not many know about the cytoskeleton within our cells, let alone the "microtubules" that give it its shape. Now, a group of Princeton researchers has resolved a long-standing controversy by identifying exactly how the body creates these micron-sized filaments.
Using a novel imaging technique, Sabine Petry and the researchers in her lab were able to show that a protein called XMAP215, previously known only to help microtubules grow faster and longer, is necessary to creating the nucleus of each microtubule. Their work appears in the May issue of the journal Nature Cell Biology.
Study - Microtubules - Cell - Cooperation - Molecules
"Our study shows that microtubules in the cell are generated through cooperation between two molecules," said Akanksha Thawani, a fourth-year graduate student in Petry's lab who is the first author of the new paper. "XMAP215 functions together with a larger protein complex that forms ring shaped structures, gamma-tubulin ring complex (g-TuRC)."
"Microtubules are like the skeleton of the cell—they give the cell its architecture," said Petry, an assistant professor of molecular biology and the senior author on the paper. "Beyond that, by positioning organelles, they can also serve as a highway for other components. Motor proteins can actually 'walk' along these microtubules. They really are fundamental to cell biology."
Years - Researchers - Field - Microtubules - Bricks
For 30 years, researchers in the field have known that the pillar-like microtubules are built of bricks called "tubulin" that grow from a tiny nucleus, and most agreed that g-tubulin was the only compound that could create that nucleus.
But there was a problem, said Petry. The few researchers who had succeeded in isolating g-TuRC found that when they put it in a test tube, it spectacularly underperformed at creating microtubule nuclei.
Anything - Handful - Microtubules - Thousands
"Gamma-TuRC barely does anything," she said. "It nucleates a handful of microtubules, but it should make thousands."
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