The first-ever observation of complex messaging system of cells was observed through a new study. It revealed the intricate workings of a network of calcium ions as intracellular messengers. The way information travels within our bodies ‘ cells is not unlike the wiring within a computer chip.
According to researchers at the University of Edinburgh in the UK, this “cell-wide web” uses a microscopic network of guides to transmit information across nanoscale distances and carry out cell activities and instructions, such as relaxing or contracting muscles.
Calcium ions (Ca2 +) are an essential part of our cells ‘ messaging system. Their signals are crucial to a wide range of jobs, including cell growth, death, and movement. Researchers have now taken an unprecedented close look at how calcium ions within the cell shuttle messages.
As you may recall from textbooks, animal cells look little like sacks with different structures called organelles floating inside. Suspended in a gel-like substance called cytosol.
Altogether, these internal cell contents form cytoplasm. Up to now, calcium ions have been thought to pulse through the cytoplasm to tell the cells what to do. But their communications now appear to be more structured than that.
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The researchers found that calcium ions have their own ‘ wiring ‘ network. These are called nanocourses. They travel all the way to the nucleus at the heart of the cell and control which genes are then released and expressed. The wiring is not static either. These nanocourses can be reconfigured accordingly as cell behavior changes.
“The most striking thing is that this circuit is highly flexible. As this cell-wide web can quickly reconfigure to deliver different outputs in a manner determined by the information that the nucleus receives and relays,” says one of the researchers, cell pharmacologist Mark Evans.
The team used rat cells to study this phenomenon closely and used electron microscopy to find out how these nanocourses work precisely. The researchers explain that the series of calcium ion-carrying nanocourses work somewhat similar to how a computer microprocessor uses carbon nanotubes-though cells appear to be more advanced than that.
“Critically, during cell proliferation, this circuit is not hardwired and remodels for various outputs,” the researchers explained in their published paper. “No man-made microprocessors or circuit boards can achieve this yet,” Evans adds.
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Knowing more about how cells handle instructions might help inform the treatment of all kinds of health problems, including pulmonary hypertension or even cancer growth, according to the team.
The next step is to understand exactly how calcium ions work as code in programming cells to express different genes. Then we might start taping down the line into this process.
The study on Complex Messaging System of Cells published in Nature Communications.