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New research technique provides clues into cell growth

St. Louis, Jan. 22, 2004 -- Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have developed a new probe that allows them to watch protein activity in living cells. In their initial study, which focused on a protein tentatively linked to the spread of cancerous cells, the team both proved their new technique works and revealed surprising new details about the protein's activity.

The protein in this study, neuronal WiskottAldrich syndrome protein (N-WASP), is naturally found in every cell in the body and is known to be involved in a wide range of cellular processes. One of its key functions is believed to be guiding cellular growth and movement within the body, including when tumor cells metastasize, or spread, from one organ to another.

"To our knowledge this is the first probe of its kind that allows us to actually see in a living system where, when and how proteins are activated," says first author Michael E. Ward, a graduate student in anatomy and neurobiology. "This is significant progress in moving from examining the biochemistry of ground up cells to being able to study it in an intact cell."

The study was led by Yi Rao, Ph.D., associate professor of anatomy and neurobiology. It appears online in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and will be featured on the cover of the Jan. 27 print edition of the journal.

To design this new probe, the team took advantage of the fact that N-WASP folds in half when it is inactivated. They latched two fluorescent proteins onto the opposing ends of N-WASP -- one yellow and one cyan (greenish-blue).

When stimulated by a particular wavelength of light, fluorescent proteins normally release energy in the form of light. In the case of yellow and cyan proteins, the light emitted appears either yellow or cyan. Under certain circumstances, light energy from the cyan protein can be transferred to the yellow protein since cyan is a higher
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Contact: Gila Z. Reckess
reckessg@wustl.edu
314-286-0109
Washington University School of Medicine
22-Jan-2004


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