Transporter activity depends on its cargo

Memphis, Tennessee, November 13, 2019

Two male scientists work in front of large microscopes and examine an image

Scott C. Blanchard, PhD, left, Endowed Chair in Molecular Imaging at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and Daniel Terry, PhD, of the Blanchard lab, study a molecular image of a transporter protein.

Transporters move substances across cell membranes. Scientists at St. Jude, Weill Cornell Medicine and Columbia University applied single-molecule imaging technologies to explain the activity of specific transporter proteins.

Called neurotransmitter: sodium symporters, these proteins play critical roles in the human brain. A better understanding of them may help drug development.

The researchers measured the activity of single molecules during transport. To do so, the scientists used custom-built microscopes.

This work showed for the first time that scientists can distinguish multiple aspects of the transport process that were once hidden. The rate of transport activity varied in unexpected ways based on the cargo being transported. These new details shed light on how transporters are regulated.

“By looking at the activity of single molecules, we have clarified an unexpected aspect of the mechanism underlying transporter activity,” said Scott Blanchard, PhD, of St. Jude Structural Biology.

This work was published in Nature.

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