Cell cytoskeleton as target for new active agents

Through a unique combination of computer simulations and laboratory experiments, researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI have discovered new binding sites for active agents – against cancer, for example – on a vital protein of the cell cytoskeleton. Eleven of the sites hadn’t been known before. The study is published in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

The protein tubulin is an essential building block of the so-called cell cytoskeleton. In cells, tubulin molecules arrange themselves into tube-like structures, the microtubule filaments. These give cells their shape, aid in transporting proteins and larger cellular components, and play a crucial role in cell division.

Thus tubulin performs diverse functions in the cell and in doing so interacts with numerous other substances. “Tubulin can bind an astonishing number of different proteins and small molecules, several hundred for sure,” says Tobias Mühlethaler, a doctoral candidate in the PSI Laboratory of Biomolecular Research and first author of the study. The functions of the protein are guided by means of such bonds. Also, many drugs dock on tubulin and take effect, for example, by preventing cell division in tumours.

Read more on the PSI website

Image: The research team in front of the Swiss Light Source (from left): Andrea Prota, Tobias Mühlethaler and Michel Steinmetz

Credit: Paul Scherrer Institute/Mahir Dzambegovic