Applying physical stress to cells, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania report that they have demonstrated that everyday forces can alter the structure of proteins, unfold them, and expose new targets in the fight against disease.
The findings for red blood cells as well as stem cells show that hidden and folded parts of proteins can be exposed by physical strain, not just by chemical reaction.
The scientists used force to induce changes in the structures of cytoskeletal proteins. They employed fluorescent dyes, labeled proteins sequentially, visualized them, and molecularly pinpointed the newly exposed parts of proteins. By forcing proteins to unfold, hidden binding sites were thus revealed. The team generated multicolor maps that revealed locations of protein sites not accessible when the cell remained static and relaxed.
The study appears in the current issue of Science.