DEC 25, 2020 1:29 PM PST

Immune Protein Has a Surprising Role in Cell Adhesion

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

During development, cells multiply to grow the animal, and those cells have to organize properly and differentiate into special types to form various structures and tissues. As that happens, cells have to be able to come together and adhere to one another. Reporting in Nature Communications, researchers have now determined how the stickiness of cells enables them to be properly sorted into the right places during development. Cell adhesion, or how tightly they clump together, appears to be controlled in part by a molecule that is thought of as an immune protein.

The fruit fly -- Drosophila melanogaster / Credit: NASA / Dominic Hart

It's long been observed that when cells start out in early development and have not yet specialized into a certain type, they tend to move in a way that keeps cells with similar fates together. The differential adhesion hypothesis, first proposed in 1964 by Malcolm Steinberg, suggests that cells with similar levels of stickiness stay in contact to keep energy use efficient and low, which helps to maintain thermodynamic stability.

"Many other theoretical works have emphasized the importance of differences in cell-to-cell adhesion for separating cell populations and maintaining the boundaries between them, but this had not yet been demonstrated in living animal epithelial tissues," said the study leader Erina Kuranaga of Tohoku University's Laboratory for Histogenetic Dynamics. "Our study showed, for the first time, that cell sorting is regulated by changes in adhesion."

Compartments in adult tissues. Fluorescent protein expression shows posterior compartments in the wing and the abdomen. Please notice that boundaries between compartments are amazingly straight. / Credit: Tohoku University

In this study, Kuranaga and her team used fluorescent tags to visualize the expression of a protein called Toll-1, which appears to act like an adhesion molecule. It forms a boundary between compartments of cells with similar fates and helps to correct distortions if the cells within the compartments don't divide at the same rate. Distinct populations of cells in the developing fruit fly cluster together because they will go on to form specific structures, like the epidermis.

Toll-1 proteins are typically known as watchdogs that recognize pathogenic invaders in the body. Now we know they have a role outside the immune system. "Our work improves understanding of the non-immune roles of Toll proteins," said Kuranaga.

The research team is planning to continue their investigation of how various genes in the Toll family are functioning in the fruit fly.

Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via Tohoku University, Nature Communications

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
FEB 07, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Watching the Body Plan Emerge
FEB 07, 2021
Watching the Body Plan Emerge
Animals grow from what looks like a clump of cells, but those cells organize into specific patterns, laying the right fo ...
FEB 09, 2021
Immunology
Putting the Kibosh on HIV's Stealth Tactics
FEB 09, 2021
Putting the Kibosh on HIV's Stealth Tactics
The human immunodeficiency virus or HIV is always one step of the immune system, a tactic that makes it impossible to co ...
MAR 01, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Sulfur May've Been Essential to the Evolution of Multicellular Life
MAR 01, 2021
Sulfur May've Been Essential to the Evolution of Multicellular Life
We've heard a lot about how important carbon and water are to life, but sulfur? Researchers think that sulfur may have a ...
MAR 21, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
Deciphering How Some Environmental Influences Affect Development
MAR 21, 2021
Deciphering How Some Environmental Influences Affect Development
We know that there are certain substances that can harm a developing fetus, like alcohol or lead. Some health conditions ...
MAR 25, 2021
Microbiology
Good Microbes Can Help Plants Withstand Heat
MAR 25, 2021
Good Microbes Can Help Plants Withstand Heat
Bacteria live everywhere, and we're starting to understand how they affect the biology of animals and plants. This comes ...
APR 01, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
A Synthetic Cell That Grows and Divides Like a Natural One
APR 01, 2021
A Synthetic Cell That Grows and Divides Like a Natural One
Scientists have been tinkering with the building blocks of biology for a long time. In 2008 a synthetic genome was engin ...
Loading Comments...