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Researchers Propose A Revolutionary New Theory About The Way Cells Communicate

Researchers at UC San Francisco are proposing a revolutionary new theory about the way cells communicate at long distance.

Their findings, published in the May 28 issue of Cell, derived from a study about how cells communicate during development in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, but, they say, the theory could be applicable to some types of cell communication in many life forms.

The researchers were investigating the way in which cells communicate with one another about how to develop from the unspecialized cells that follow conception, to the specialized cells that make up the organs and limbs of a fully developed organism.

They focused their study on cell communication in the developing wing of Drosophila, and, in so doing, detected long, cellular extensions reaching from the unspecialized, or "undifferentiated," cells of evolving tissue to the signaling centers of distant, special cells within the wing that orchestrate development.

What these extensions, which they named cytonemes, do once they reach these signaling centers has not been determined. But the supposition - which if correct would be revolutionary - is that they relay back to the cells from which they originate messages about how to evolve, or differentiate - in other words, how to behave.

Until now, developmental biologists have assumed that this critical communication was initiated not by the target cells in need of instruction, but by the cells that transmit the instructions. Moreover, they have thought that the communication involved the signaling messengers migrating through the extracellular matrix to their destination - not by being transmitted through a conduit.

"If our theory is accurate," said the senior author of the study, Thomas B. Kornberg, PhD, a professor biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF, "it will cause developmental biologists to fundamentally rethink how these signaling molecules move, and how cells communicate with one another."

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Contact: Jennifer O'Brien
jobrien@pubaff.ucsf.edu
415-476-2557
University of California - San Francisco
28-May-1999


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