Study: calcium channels regulate cell movement

CHAPEL HILL - University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill scientists and colleagues, who discovered several years ago that certain cells glide forward in a microscopic version of "moonwalking," have now discovered that calcium channels -- which function when cells stretch -- help regulate cell movement.

The finding one day may have profound clinical implications in wound healing and cancer treatment, the researchers say.

"A lot of people don't realize that many cells are not stationary but can travel from one place to another," said Dr. Juliet Lee, former research assistant professor of cell biology and anatomy at UNC-CH and now assistant professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of Connecticut. "If cells could not move, none of us would exist. Embryos would not develop, wounds would never heal and many tumors could not send off cells to colonize other parts of the body.

"What we've discovered is an important aspect of how that movement occurs," Lee said. "When cells are stretched, such as when they're going forward and their back end gets stuck, calcium channels along the sides open to admit more calcium ions. This boosts the cell's motility so that the back end is pulled away from whatever it's been stuck on, and it can move forward again."

A report on the findings appears in the July 22 issue of the journal Nature. UNC-CH authors are Drs. Gerry Oxford, professor of cell and molecular physiology, and Ken Jacobson, professor of cell biology and anatomy. Dr. Barry Johnson, assistant professor of physiology and neurobiology at UConn, also participated in the studies.

The researchers conducted a complicated series of experiments involving stretching fish skin cells called keratocytes on silicone rubber sheets and measuring the entry of calcium ions into the cells in response to the stretching. During stretching, calcium concentrations inside the cells jumped for periods of three to

Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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