Dr. Søren Tvorup Christensen (Department of Biology) and Professor Lars Allan Larsen (Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine) at the University of Copenhagen, in collaboration with colleagues in Denmark and France, have spearheaded a recent discovery that sheds new light on the causes of a range of debilitating diseases and birth defects. Over the years, the research group has been a leader in primary cilium research. Primary cilia are antennae-like structures found on the surface of nearly all cells in the human body. These antennae are designed to receive signals, such as growth factors and hormones, from other cells in the body and then convert these signals to a response within individual cells. Defective formation or function of these antennae can give rise to a range of serious maladies including heart defects, polycystic kidney disease (PKD), blindness, cancer, obesity, and diabetes. However, there remains a great deal of mystery as to how these antennae capture and convert signals within cells. The current groundbreaking results were published online in an open-access article on June 6, 2013 in Cell Reports. “We have identified an entirely new way by which these antennae are able to register signals in their midst, signals that serve to determine how cells divide and move amongst one another. This also serves to explain how a stem cell can develop into heart muscle,” explains Dr. Christensen. “What we have found is that the antennae don’t just capture signals via receptors out in the antennae, but they are also able to transport specific types of receptors down to the base of the antennae - where they are then activated and might possibly interact with a host of other signalling systems.
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