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Twisty chains of proteins keep cells oriented

Curved fibers enable cells to tell right from left

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8:00am, June 16, 2015
actin filaments

CURVED SPOKES  Actin filaments (yellow; cell nucleus in magenta) tilt counterclockwise as they extend inward, helping a cell distinguish right from left.

View the video

Fibers composed of a protein called actin are responsible for human cells’ ability to tell right from left, researchers report in the April Nature Cell Biology. These twisty fibers (below, in yellow; cell’s nucleus in magenta) are part of a cell’s internal scaffolding known as the cytoskeleton. Among other functions, the fibers help cells migrate from one part of a developing embryo to another.

Scientists, including cell biologist Alexander Bershadsky at the National University of Singapore, had amassed evidence that the cytoskeleton enabled cells to distinguish right from left. So Bershadsky’s colleague Yee Han Tee recorded 100 videos of actin fibers organizing themselves inside human foreskin cells placed under the microscope.

The researchers discovered that actin has a natural asymmetry that

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