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How cells multitask: the magic of molecular switches

Networks of proteins are responsible for keeping cells alive and healthy. Research from UCSF’s Quantitative Biosciences Institute (QBI), published in Nature on October 13, has unearthed important details about a protein, known as a molecular switch, that ensures the proper functioning of these networks. The findings open up new avenues for the development of critical drug therapies.

UCSF News has more on the advance:

“We made new discoveries relating to a fundamental part of regulatory biology,” said Tanja Kortemme, PhD, a co-senior author of the study in Nature. “This is a really new insight that changes our understanding of these systems.”

To see how a single protein can act on many others at once, Kortemme looked at a molecular switch called Gsp1, which plays an essential role in regulating cell growth and transport of molecules within the cell.

Kortemme, who studies proteins, teamed up with co-senior author Nevan Krogan, PhD, to look at the networks that arise when those protein molecules interact. Their combined specialties allowed them to look at protein networks on multiple scales, revealing the overall impact of the system’s individual components. In this case they observed how a mutation in DNA can result in a mutated protein that may stymie many different pathways in the cell.

Kortemme is a faculty member in the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, a department in the UCSF Schools of Pharmacy and Medicine. Krogan is a faculty member in the School of Medicine’s Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology and director of QBI, an organized research unit in the School of Pharmacy.

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How Cells Multitask: The Magic of Molecular Switches (UCSF News)


About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy aims to solve the most pressing health care problems and strives to ensure that each patient receives the safest, most effective treatments. Our discoveries seed the development of novel therapies, and our researchers consistently lead the nation in NIH funding. The School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program, with its unique emphasis on scientific thinking, prepares students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their field.