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Computer Simulations Yield Clues to How Cells Interact With Surroundings

By Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

March 28, 2013

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Berkeley Lab researchers say they have developed a virtual integrin snippet about 20 nanometers long that responds to changes in energy and other stimuli just as integrins do in real life. The result of the simulation could lead to new ways to explore how a protein connects a cell's inner and outer environments.

"We can now run computer simulations that reveal how integrins in the plasma membrane translate external mechanical cues to chemical signals within the cell," says Berkeley Lab's Mohammad Mofrad.

The model already has taught the researchers that when activated by an external force, integrins cluster together on a cell's surface to form structures called focal adhesions. The model indicates that this ability to pull in more integrins could be due to the fact that a subunit of integrin is connected to actin filaments, which form a cell's skeleton.

"We found that if actin filaments sustain more forces, they automatically bring more integrins together, forming a larger cluster," says Berkeley Lab's Mehrdad Mehrbod.

The researchers also discovered a pattern in which integrins fluctuate. "Our research sets up an avenue for future studies by offering a hypothesis that relates integrin activation and clustering," Mofrad says.

From Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
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