At the heart of the immune system that protects our bodies from disease and foreign invaders is a vast and complex communications network involving millions of cells, sending and receiving chemical signals that can mean life or death. At the heart of this vast cellular signaling network are interactions between billions of proteins and other biomolecules. These interactions, in turn, are greatly influenced by the spatial patterning of signaling and receptor molecules. Biology is a game of nanometers, where spatial differences of only a few nanometers can determine the fate of a cell – whether it lives or dies, remains normal or turns cancerous. A scientific team led by chemist Jay Groves (Berkeley Lab and the University of California – UC- Berkeley) has used supported membranes to demonstrate that living cells not only interact with their environment through chemical signals but also through physical force.
The ability to observe signaling spatial patterns in the immune and other cellular systems as they evolve, and to study the impact on molecular interactions and, ultimately, cellular communication, would be a critical tool in the fight against immunological and other disorders that lead to a broad range of health problems including cancer.
Such a tool is now at hand.