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UI study discovers cells segregate molecules to control signaling

The human body has barriers such as skin and the lining of airways and gut that protect and separate us from the outside world. If these barriers are breached, our survival is threatened. Therefore it is critical that the cells that form these barriers have mechanisms that can instantly repair any injury.

University of Iowa researchers have discovered a surprisingly simple but effective repair system in airway barrier cells. The UI study shows that by placing a messenger molecule on one side of the barrier and a receiver molecule on the other side, these cells have in place a repair mechanism that is poised to leap into action whenever the barrier is breached. The study findings are published in the March 20 issue of Nature.

One of the researchers, Joseph Zabner, M.D., associate professor of internal medicine, likened the repair mechanism to a situation where a broken fence allows a neighbor's dog to come in and bother a farmer's chickens. The dog causes the chickens to squawk, which signals the farmer to go and fix the fence. In the same way, breaks in the cell barrier allow the messenger molecule to get to the receiver, which then sends a signal to the cell to repair the broken barrier.

"If everything is healthy, the message never gets to its receptor because the barrier keeps them apart," said Paola Vermeer, Ph.D., UI assistant research scientist and the lead author of the study. "The instant that barrier is broken, the message can get to its receptor and that receptor sends the signal to start the repair process."

The findings explain how healthy barrier cells can rapidly repair injuries. The results may also have important implications for disease processes.

If a disease weakens the barrier in such a way that allows the message to get to its receptor when it shouldn't, then the repair mechanism may be turned on inappropriately. Such continuous signaling could lead to cellular abnormalities and may play a role in diseases
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Contact: Becky Soglin
becky-soglin@uiowa.edu
319-335-6660
University of Iowa
19-Mar-2003


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