New Tool Illuminates Cell Signaling Pathways Key to Disease, Likely to Advance Study of Cellular Processes in Major Psychiatric Disorders, Opioid Addiction, and Host Of Other Diseases

In a major advance for fundamental biological research, University of California (UC) San Francisco (UCSF) scientists have developed a tool capable of illuminating previously inscrutable cellular signaling networks that play a wide variety of roles in human biology and disease. In particular, the technique opens up exciting new avenues for understanding and treating psychiatric disease, the researchers say. The new technology, described in a paper published on April 6, 2016 in Cell, makes it vastly easier for scientists to study the complex workings of a large family of sensor proteins called G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), which sit in cell membranes and enable cells to respond to chemical signals from other parts of the body or the outside world. In a first proof-of-principle study, the UCSF team used their new approach to identify new biochemical players involved in the development of tolerance to opioid painkillers -- which target a particular type of GPCR -- findings they anticipate will enable researchers to develop safer and more effective pain control. The new Cell article is titled “An Approach to Spatiotemporally Resolve Protein Interaction Networks in Living Cells.” "This technology will let us understand how these critical signaling molecules work in a way we've never been able to before," said Nevan Krogan, Ph.D., a Professor of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology and Director of the Quantitative Biosciences Institute (QBI) at UCSF and a Senior Investigator at the Gladstone Institutes, who was one of the new paper's senior authors.
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