Understanding how proteins bend, twist and shape-shift as they go about their work in cells is important for understanding normal biology and diseases. But a deep understanding of protein dynamics has generally been elusive due to the lack of good imaging methods of proteins at work. Now, for the first time, scientists at the UNC School of Medicine and the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center led by Klaus Hahn and Tim Elston have invented a method that could enable this field to take a great leap forward.
The scientists’ new “binder-tag” technique allows researchers to pinpoint and track proteins that are in a desired shape or “conformation,” and to do so in real time inside living cells. The scientists demonstrated the technique in, essentially, movies that track the active version of an important signaling protein — a molecule, in this case, important for cell growth.