Dr Youzhong Guo | Accelerating Our Understanding of Cell Membranes
About this episode
Cell membranes are an essential constituent of all living organisms. They protect and organize cells, and perform a range of vital functions that ensure an organism’s survival. The two fundamental components of cell membranes are proteins and lipids, which form a diverse and complex system connecting the membrane to the wider cell. Interactions between cell-membrane proteins and between proteins and lipids play vital roles in myriad biological processes. Understanding these interactions is critical for identifying the mechanisms behind many medical disorders, in order to find ways of treating them. In-depth knowledge of these interactions is also crucial for drug design. Read More
Scientists have traditionally used detergents to extract proteins from cell membranes in order to study them. However, detergents can cause structural damage to protein and lipid molecules, thus altering their functionality and hindering meaningful research.
Recently, Dr Youzhong Guo and his team at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Medicinal Chemistry have revolutionized the extraction of cell membrane components using detergent-free processes.
To do so, they have developed a technique to produce ‘native cell-membrane nanoparticles’ from cell membranes. In this technique, the team uses polymers that form nanoparticles when they come in contact with cell membranes. As these nanoparticles form, membrane proteins and lipids become encapsulated within them. The nanoparticles protect these molecules so that they can be isolated and analysed.
Compared to commonly used extraction methods, the team’s Native Cell Membrane Nanoparticle system demonstrates superior preservation of lipids and proteins, producing samples of sufficient quality to perform high-resolution structural analysis.
Dr Guo and his team use a number of different polymers that can form nanoparticles and encapsulate membrane components for analysis. Indeed, the significant differences in cell membranes between animals, plants, fungi and bacteria mean that it is likely impossible to obtain a single polymer that would protect the structures of all membrane proteins and lipids.
In fact, each type of membrane protein may need a specific set of polymers to aid their extraction. Toward this aim, Dr Guo and his team are building an extensive library of ‘membrane-active’ polymers. This library will enable researchers across the globe to choose the most appropriate polymer for the specific protein or cell type they wish to study.
The research carried out by Dr Guo’s team is revolutionizing our understanding of cell membranes, and there is plenty more to come. This exciting area of biological research holds much promise for advancing the study of cell membrane components and their fascinating interactions. Through a deeper understanding of the structure and function of membrane components, scientists will be empowered to develop effective therapies for a diverse range of medical conditions.
Original Article Reference
Summary of the papers: ‘Detergent-free systems for structural studies of membrane proteins’, doi.org/10.1042/BST20201080; ‘A native cell membrane nanoparticles system allows for high-quality functional proteoliposome reconstitution’, doi.org/10.1016/j.bbadva.2021.100011; and ‘Native Cell Membrane Nanoparticles System for Membrane Protein-Protein Interaction Analysis’, doi.org/10.3791/61298
For further information, you can connect with Dr Youzhong Guo at email@example.com
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