Scientists have pioneered a new method of measuring electricity in cells

The complex dance of electrical signals inside the cell holds the key to many questions about diseases and disorders, but has been difficult to understand – so a team of UChicago scientists devised a way of listening. Credit: Christoph Bergstadt / Shutterstock.

Electricity is a major component in living bodies. We know that voltage differences are important in biological systems; They drive the heartbeat and allow neurons to communicate with each other. But for decades, it was not possible to measure the voltage difference between organelles – membrane-wrapped structures inside the cell and the rest of the cell.

A pioneering technique created by UChicago scientists, however, allows researchers to peer into cells to see how different organelles use voltages to perform tasks.

“Scientists had long observed that the dyes used for staining cells get trapped in mitochondria,” explained graduate student Anand Saminathan, the first author for the paper, which was published in Nature Nanotechnology. “But little work has been done to examine the membrane potential of other organisms in living cells.”

Krishnan Lab at UChicago specializes in creating small sensors to travel inside cells and report back on what is happening, so researchers can understand how cells work – and how they break down into disease or disorders Huh. Previously, they have built such machines to study neurons and lysosomes.

In this case, they decided to use the technique to investigate the electrical activities of organisms inside living cells.

In the membranes of neurons, there are proteins called ion channels that act as a gateway for charged ions to enter and exit the cell. These channels are essential for neurons to communicate. Previous researches had shown that there are ion channels similar to organelles, but we were not sure what role they played.

The researchers’ new device, called Voltaire, makes it possible to know this question more. It acts as a voltmeter to measure the voltage difference of two different regions inside a cell. Voltaire is constructed from DNA, which means that it can go directly into the cell and have access to deeper structures.

In their initial study, researchers looked for membrane potential – a difference in voltage inside an organelle versus outside. They found evidence for such possibilities in many organisms, such as trans-Golgi networks and recycling endosomes, which were previously thought not to possess membrane potential.

“So I think that membrane potential can play a big role in organelles – perhaps it helps communicate organelles,” Proc, a specialist of nucleic acid-based molecular devices. Yamuna Krishnan said.

His study is only the beginning, the authors said; Voltaire offers researchers in many fields a way to answer questions they have never been able to ask. It can also be used in plants.

“This new development will at least initiate dialogue, and may even inspire a new field of research,” Saminathan said.

Understanding ‘membranes’ in membranous organisms

more information:
Anand Saminathan et al. A DNA-based voltmeter for the organelle, Nature Nanotechnology (2020). DOI: 10.1038 / s41565-020-00784-1

Provided by University of Chicago

Quotes: Scientists retrieve the new method of measuring electricity in cells (2020, 24 December) from on 24 December 2020.

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