Researchers Show That Cubic Membranes Might Defend Sick Cells

January 3, 2016

It’s well known that, when cells are subject to stress, starvation, or viral infection, they sometimes adopt a cubic architecture. Unlike the simple spherical structure of membranes in healthy cells, these cubic membranes, or cubosomes, are very complex, forming an interconnected network of water channels resembling a “plumber’s nightmare.”

Yet scientists still don’t have a clear understanding of how or why this happens.

“The transition from this very simple spherical structure into a complex cubic one is something that happens once in a while,” Virgil Percec, the P. Roy Vagelos Professor of Chemistry, says. “But we don’t yet have a clear understanding of the mechanism behind it.”

Now, in a paper published in ACS Central Science, researchers at Penn have completed the first experiment able to model these different biological structures. They used these models to figure out how those structures affect the functionality of certain biological systems. By doing this, they were able to demonstrate that cubic membranes in unhealthy cells might be used as a defense mechanism.

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