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The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), one of the National Institutes of Health, supports all research featured in this digest. Although only the lead scientists are named, coworkers and other collaborators also contributed to the findings.

In This Issue... April 21, 2011

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An illustration of the structure of HIV. Credit: David S. Goodsell, RCSB PDB.

Cool Image: Exploring HIV

David Goodsell • RCSB Protein Data Bank

If we can visualize a protein's shape, we can learn much more about how it functions and how we might block its activity. This was the guiding principle behind an NIH initiative launched 25 years ago to spur the discovery of HIV-related protein structures. Structures produced through the program have helped paint this detailed picture of the virus and have led to some important classes of drugs to treat the infection. Click on image to explore the structures of HIV. Read more...
Fruit fly retina showing light-sensing protein rhodopsin-5 (blue) and rhodopsin-6 (red). Credit: Hermann Steller, Rockefeller University.

Surprise! Light-Sensing Protein Also Senses Temperature

Craig Montell • Johns Hopkins University

At one time, researchers believed that the protein rhodopsin functioned solely as a receptor for light in the eye. Now they know it also helps fruit fly larvae sense temperature. Without rhodopsin, fly larvae can avoid areas that are too hot or cold, but they cannot detect temperature variations within their comfort zone (64 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit). The research may shed light on how other animals—including people—sense temperature. Read more... Link to external Web site

Caption: Fruit fly retina showing light-sensing protein rhodopsin-5 (blue) and rhodopsin-6 (red). Credit: Hermann Steller, Rockefeller University. High res. image (JPG, 50KB)
Image of the new device that acts as a microscopic assembly line to synthesize cell membranes.

Cell Membranes Created By Assembly Line

Brian Paegel • Scripps Research Institute, Florida campus

Cell membranes: They surround every cell in your body, encase all your organelles and intrigue researchers as potential drug delivery devices. But they've been hard to mass produce. Now, a new process driven by a microfluidic circuit lets scientists create synthetic membranes in an assembly-line fashion. The lab-made membranes are lipid bilayers, just like natural cell membranes, and can even include inserted proteins. The work will help scientists better understand biological cell membranes and could advance efforts to use membranes therapeutically. Read more... Link to external Web site

Caption: A new device acts as a microscopic assembly line to synthesize cell membranes. High res. image (JPG, 34KB)
The male-specific protein complex (red) homes in on the X chromosome (blue) to ramp up its activity.

How Men Pump Up Their X

Erica Larschan • Brown University

Men have one X chromosome and women have two. To even things out, men must ramp up the activity of their X chromosome. Scientists recently figured out how it's done—at least in fruit flies. In the males, the molecular machinery that "reads" and transcribes DNA operates faster and travels further on X chromosome genes than on other chromosomes. A cluster of proteins called MSL is responsible for squeezing out this extra effort. MSL, which stands for "male-specific lethal," acts like a power tool custom-made for the X chromosome. Read more... Link to external Web site

NIH's National Human Genome Research Institute also supported this work.

Caption: The male-specific protein complex (red) homes in on the X chromosome (blue) to ramp up its activity. High res. image (JPG, 60KB)
Illustration of GPCR structure. Credit: Stevens Laboratory.

Structure of "Caffeine Receptor" Revealed

Ray Stevens • Scripps Research Institute

Our bodies sense and respond to caffeine the same way they do to fragrances, light and other stimuli—by tweaking a molecule called a G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR). Scientists recently determined the detailed, 3-D structure of an active caffeine receptor. The new structure is teaching many lessons about the large family of GPCRs, which are the targets of many drugs, including those that treat allergies, heart disease and Parkinson's. The research could inform the design of new drugs for a wide range of diseases. Read more... Link to external Web site

NIH's National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases also supported this work.

Caption: New structure suggests GPCR dynamics. Credit: Stevens Laboratory. High res. image (JPG, 25KB)


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This page last reviewed on April 22, 2011