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Protein “motors” inside cells act like trucks on tiny cellular highways to deliver life-sustaining cargo. Researchers now know how cells deploy enzymes to place traffic control and “roadway under construction” signs along those highways.
The findings could lead to new therapies for spinal cord and nerve injuries and neurodegenerative diseases.
“To stay alive and function, every cell in our body needs to transport cargoes to the place they’re needed inside the cell, in the right amount, and at the right time,” says Robert O’Hagan, assistant research professor of genetics at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and the Human Genetics Institute of New Jersey. “So there has to be a lot of organization in how transport inside the cell is regulated, and now we know a lot more about how that happens.”
The highways inside cells are called microtubules. Proteins called kinesins and dyneins act like motors—and are essentially the cargo trucks in cells. The motor proteins drive cargo around microtubule highways.
A central question in cell biology is how intracellular transport and the highway systems are organized. How do the motor proteins know where to go and how fast they need to be?