Researchers Apply a Phenomenon in Proteins to a Mechanical Network

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are investigating a counterintuitive process called allostery that occurs in proteins by studying an analogous process in a macroscopic mechanical network.

Their research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could lead to a clearer understanding of why this phenomenon is so common in proteins.

​​​​​​​The research was led by Jason Rocks, a graduate student at Penn, and is part of a longtime collaboration between Andrea Liu, the Hepburn Professor of Physics, and Sidney Nagel, a professor of physics at the University of Chicago.

In allostery, a small regulatory molecule binding on one side of a protein will alter the ability of another kind of molecule, called the substrate, to bind somewhere else on the protein. This process is a way to turn on and off the ability of the protein to bind the substrate, and it plays a role in regulating the protein and the function it fills.

​​​​​​​“You might have a protein that's an enzyme,” says Liu. “And then you have some substrate that is chemically changed by this enzyme. When the substrate comes and binds to the protein, the chemical reaction occurs and the molecule goes off as another species.”

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