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New approach uses light to stabilize proteins for study

6 November 2019 20:42

CHICAGO. KAZINFORM - Researchers at the University of Illinois (UI) have developed a technique that uses light to control the lifetime of a protein inside the cell. The method will allow the researchers to better observe how specific proteins contribute to health, development and disease, according to a news release posted on UI's website on Monday, Xinhua reports.

The technique, called GLIMPSe, involves attaching a short peptide sequence called a degron to the target protein that signals the cell to degrade it. Light triggers the cell to remove the degron, thus rescuing the protein from degradation. This technique allows the researchers to study what happens when a protein is present or absent in the cell, or when it is present at lower and higher levels.

The researchers modified two kinds of proteins: a kinase and a phosphatase.

«If you activate the kinase, it will direct the cell to differentiate into a neuronal cell line,» said UI biochemistry professor Kai Zhang, who led the new research. «If you activate the phosphatase, it will block that differentiation.»

«We demonstrated that the stability of two different classes of proteins can be controlled using light,» said Payel Mondal, a graduate student at UI. «We saw protein stabilization within 30 minutes of using the light.»

«One of the limitations of this system is that once the protein is rescued, we have no further ability to control its levels,» Zhang said. «Eventually, the cell will degrade the protein.»

The researchers are working to develop new techniques to further extend their control.

Proteins are activated in cells in different ways. Previous techniques for controlling protein levels involved adding chemicals that degrade specific proteins.

The findings have been published in ACS Synthetic Biology.

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