[Press & Publications] CRACKING A PUZZLE THAT UNLOCKS A MATRIX [Medical]

May 2000

No 92

Biochemists at the University of Leicester have made a landmark discovery that has evaded the scientific community for twenty years and which holds huge potential in the fight against conditions such as thrombosis, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis.

A substance known as the extracellular matrix holds our bodies together and provides a lattice within which cells move around and interact with each other. It is common to all multicellular species and its development formed one of the key components in our evolution from simple unicellular organisms.

Professor Robert Liddington and Dr Jonas Emsley of the University Department of Biochemistry have managed to unlock the molecular secrets of one family of proteins (integrins) that exist on the surface of all cells.

As a result they have been able to observe the atomic structure of these proteins in contact with a component of the extra-cellular matrix, previously identified by collaborators from Cambridge University (Drs Richard Farndale, Graham Knight and Michael Barnes).

These points of contact are critical in relaying vital information to the cell from the rest of the body concerning when to grow, when to reproduce and when to move.

The method by which the Leicester group have managed to create an image showing the molecular structure of the relationship between the proteins on the surface of cells and the extracellular matrix is known as X-ray Crystallography. Though this technique has been used before, Professor Liddington's team has produced the first ever molecular image of these particular proteins and the extracellular matrix as they appear when joined.

Explaining the significance of their discovery Dr Emsley said: Problems such as coronary thrombosis occur as a consequence of abnormal processes of communication between cells known as blood platelets and the extracellular matrix. What follows are the creation of clots in the arteries that can lead to heart attacks. Normally, blood platelets only form a clot where a cut or lesion has occurred. Our research could lead to the creation of a drug whose molecular structure would prevent coronary thrombosis from occurring.

Professor Liddington and Dr Emsley's research is part of a collaboration with Dr Farndale and Dr Barnes which was funded by the Medical Research Council. This work is published in the most recent edition of the international journal Cell and is a further step forward in our understanding of the way our bodies function.


For more information/images, please contact Dr Emsley on: tel:0116 252 3820 fax: 0116 252 3473 email: je14@le.ac.uk


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Last updated: 04 May 2000 11:21
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