Nano Science and Technology Institute

New sensor tracks zinc in cells

December 16, 2013 07:17 AM EST By: Jennifer Rocha

Shifts in zinc’s location could be exploited for early diagnosis of prostate cancer.

Story content courtesy of MIT, US.

A new optical sensor created at MIT tracks zinc within cells and should help researchers learn more about its functions. The sensor, which can be targeted to a specific organelle within the cell, fluoresces when it binds to zinc, allowing scientists to determine where the metal is concentrated.

“We can use these tools to study zinc trafficking within prostate cells, both healthy and diseased. By doing so we’re trying to gain insight into how zinc levels within the cell change during the progression of prostate cancer,” says Robert Radford, an MIT postdoc who led the project. Radford works in the lab of Stephen Lippard, the Arthur Amos Noyes Professor of Chemistry and senior author of the paper. The paper’s lead author is Wen Chyan, a 2013 MIT graduate.

The new MIT study supports this theory by showing that, although cancerous prostate cells can absorb zinc, the metal does not accumulate in the mitochondria, as it does in normal prostate cells.

This finding suggests that, in normal cells, zinc is probably transported into mitochondria by a specialized transport protein, but such a protein has not been identified, Radford says. In cancer cells, this protein might be inactivated.

The lab’s immediate interest is study of zinc in the brain, where it is believed to act as a neurotransmitter. By understanding mobile zinc in the auditory cortex, optic nerve, and olfactory bulb, the researchers hope to figure out its role in the senses of hearing, sight, and smell.

The research was funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

 

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