Time-lapse movies show brain cells move like a two-stroke engine

ke a bingo cage," says Hatten. "It holds the nucleus." The experiment confirmed the existence of this cage, which had been controversial. Although the cage is essential for the cell to migrate, further experiments showed that it does not initiate cell movement. Comparing the elements of the cage in migrating and stationary cells, the researchers found no difference.

Next the researchers looked at the protein Par6-alpha, referred to as mPar6-alpha in mouse cells. Recent studies in other laboratories led the scientists to believe that mPar6-alpha helps give a cell polarity - in a migrating cell, a leading and a trailing end. Because migrating neurons are highly polarized, Hatten and her coworkers suspected that mPar6-alpha was active in them.

Again, the researchers used Venus, this time to label mPar6-alpha protein. Its bright yellow glow concentrated in the centrosome, the organelle located just in front of the nucleus in migrating cells, which plays a role in organizing the cytoskeleton.

This in itself was an interesting discovery. "The centrosome has a large number of proteins that make up its structure. Most other known proteins in the centrosome are structural," says Hatten. "mPar6 is the first signaling protein found there."

Watching the cells with labeled mPar6-alpha as they moved along the glial fibers, the researchers could see a two-step process to every advance the cells made. First the centrosome slided forward, and then three minutes later the nucleus followed. "The timing of the advance of the centrosome and then of the nucleus was exactly the same as the timing we measured 15 years ago that it takes for the nerve cell to adhere, let go and take a new step along the glial monorail," says Hatten. Additional experiments that tagged a different component of the centrosome confirmed these results.

To further investigate the function of mPar6-alpha, the researchers created cells with either too much or too little of th

Contact: Lynn Love
Rockefeller University

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