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wound healing

Snapshots of Life: Wild Outcome from Knocking Out Mobility Proteins

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Spiky fibroblast cell

Credit: Praveen Suraneni and Rong Li, Stowers Institute for Medical Research

When biologists disabled proteins critical for cell movement, the result was dramatic. The membrane, normally a smooth surface enveloping the cell, erupted in spiky projections. This image, which is part of the Life: Magnified exhibit, resembles a supernova. Although it looks like it exploded, the cell pictured is still alive.

To create the image, Rong Li and Praveen Suraneni, NIH-funded cell biologists at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Missouri, disrupted two proteins essential to movement in fibroblasts—connective tissue cells that are also important for healing wounds. The first, called ARPC3, is a protein in the Arp2/3 complex. Without it, the cell moves more slowly and randomly [1]. Inhibiting the second protein gave this cell its spiky appearance. Called myosin IIA (green in the image), it’s like the cell’s muscle, and it’s critical for movement. The blue color is DNA; the red represents a protein called F-actin.


Cellular Shape-Shifters to the Rescue

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Red angular lumps mixed with yellow strands and blue blobs

Caption: Angular red blood cells, called polyhedrocytes, held together by platelets (blue) and fibrin protein (yellow).
Credit: John Weisel, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Just as superheroes often change their forms to save the day, so it seems do red blood cells as they mobilize to heal a wound. Red blood cells usually look like oval, bi-concave discs, but NIH-funded researchers recently discovered that they are actually talented shape-shifters.


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