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Scientists put out international plea to help figure out purpose of cellular protein 'blobs'

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
9/2/2014 (2 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Blobs may hold key to fighting some diseases

Scientists in the U.S. are calling on the scientific community to up their efforts to determine the purpose and function of mysterious blobs in cells that have eluded understanding since they were first discovered 50 years ago.

Scientists are stepping up attempts at understanding the purpose of 'blobs' of protein within human cells.

Scientists are stepping up attempts at understanding the purpose of "blobs" of protein within human cells.

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
9/2/2014 (2 years ago)

Published in Technology

Keywords: Cell, Science, Health, Technology


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - This request from the international community comes as some suspect that these blobs could play a key role in fighting diseases such as cancer.

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These blobs are known as assemblages, and consist of cloudy structures that consist of shifting collections of proteins.

"I want to know what these assemblages are doing in Ewing sarcoma, the disease I concentrate on-and I would think all other researchers who study human biology would want to know their functions in both health and disease," said Jeffrey Toretsky, a professor from Georgetown University.

With Professor Peter Wright, from The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, Toretsky compiled an overview of what is known about these assemblages and published it in the Journal of Cell biology.

"The 'blobs' are often-but not always-made up of intrinsically disordered proteins," they wrote.

This is counter to the behavior of most proteins, whom assume a specific shape that fits certain other molecules.

While the purpose of these blob proteins is not clear, they are not inactive. Rather, they seek each other out and form gel-like structures. These resulting assemblages can trap and interact with other proteins and even RNA-a system that transfers information between DNA and proteins.

"It is only in the last five years that researchers have begun recognizing that proteins without fixed structures may have important transitional properties that change based upon their local abundance in cells," Toretsky explained.

If these blobs do in fact play a role in disease, it might be possible to target them with a small-molecule drug, Toretsky believes.

"Current drug-discovery dogma suggests that it is very hard to make a small molecule to prevent two structured proteins from interacting," he said. "However, small molecules have a greater likelihood of disrupting intrinsically disordered protein-protein interactions.

"This review links together very basic biologic phenomena of protein interaction with the potential for new drug discovery. It's an exciting challenge."

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