NEW STUDY. Like planets, the body’s cell surfaces look smooth from a distance but often hilly closer up. An article published in Communications Biology describes implications, unknown to date, of the way data from cell surfaces are normally interpreted as if they lacked topographic features.
When Earth is studied from space, its surface looks smooth. But on zooming in we notice the mountains and valleys. The same applies to cells; without magnification they look smooth, but a closer look reveals both ridges and craters.
Researchers from the Universities of Gothenburg and Uppsala studied how this variation in cell topography affects “diffusion” — how substances disperse and are transported in the cell membrane. Their aim was to develop models for the membrane’s organization.
One dimension missing
The basis for the researchers’ study was their previous discoveries. These showed that not one of the 70 cell types studied has a smooth surface.
”Today’s dominant models of how the surrounding plasma membrane of the cell is organized are based on two-dimensional interpretation of measurement data. Our study shows that this leads to completely incorrect conclusions, since the cell surface is three-dimensional,” says Ingela Parmryd, Senior Lecturer in Cell Biology at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, the lead author of the article.
In studies of molecular movements, the cell topography can cause both marked underestimation of movement in the membrane and deviant movement patterns. This is shown in the present study, which is described as groundbreaking in its field.
”The goal of our research is to take the great leap forward from current two-dimensional to three-dimensional membrane models. This is going to change the way we see fundamental biological processes like cell signaling, cell-to-cell contacts and cell migration — processes that change in pathological states, such as cancer,” Parmryd says.
Title: Conventional analysis of movement on non-flat surfaces like the plasma membrane makes Brownian motion appear anomalous; https://www.nature.com/articles/s42003-018-0240-2.
Title (earlier study): Plasma membrane topography and interpretation of single-particle tracks; https://www.nature.com/articles/nmeth0310-170.
TEXT: MARGARETA GUSTAFSSON KUBISTA