A simpler, less expensive method using bioluminescence sheds light on cell trafficking in real time
Inside your body, on the surface of cell membranes, a metaphorical web of communication and traffic is going on as hormones – or chemical messengers – bind to cell membrane receptors to fine-tune cell behavior. . Once bound, this hormone-receptor complex performs various functions by transporting chemical signals from outside the cell and translating these signals into action inside the cell. The process of entering the cell is called traffic.
Now, for the first time, new technology developed at the University of Houston College of Pharmacy will be able to look inside and take a close look at real-time traffic. Bradley McConnell, Professor of Pharmacology, has developed a way to monitor membrane protein trafficking using bioluminescence, the production and emission of light inside living organisms, replacing the need for protocols, methods or highly automated equipment.
“We describe a powerful and universal drug discovery technology based on the trafficking properties of plasma membrane receptors,” reports McConnell in Communications Biology, a Nature magazine. The lead author of the paper is Arfaxad Reyes-Alcaraz, a postdoctoral fellow in McConnell’s lab. “This technology can be applied to monitoring the effectiveness of a potential new therapeutic drug that is targeted to a cellular receptor and then internalized into the cell. It can also be used to monitor the viral entry of SARS-CoV-2 into the cell.
Ultimately, the researchers expect the process to be used for drug development for heart disease, metabolic disorders, cancer, infectious diseases, COVID-19 and others.
The process monitors how cell receptors are internalized into the cell as part of their normal function in response to a hormone or therapeutic drug interacting with its receptor – a powerful tool for understanding how the body works. Scientists have successfully studied this process for years using complex and expensive biological tools, but highly sensitive and versatile technologies have been lacking to study these processes in living systems in real time.
“Now imagine studying this process simply and cheaply with an even more informative method than is currently available,” McConnell said. “The ability to selectively generate a bioluminescent signal when the membrane receptor is in the early endosome to monitor receptor internalization (i.e., membrane trafficking) is novel.”