New Method Images Molecules Inside Cells
GOTHENBURG, Sweden, June 28, 2011 — Using a novel sample holder, researchers at the University of Gothenburg have further developed a new method for imaging individual cells. This makes it possible to produce snapshots that show not only the outline of a cell but also the various molecules inside or on the surface of the cell, and exactly where they are located, a task that is impossible with a normal microscope.
A micrograph shows the location of molecules within a cell.
The sample holder holds cells in solution, said Ingela Lanekoff, one of the researchers who developed the method. The investigators rapidly freeze the sample down to –196 °C, which enables them to capture an image of where the various molecules are at the moment of freezing.
Researchers want to know which molecules are within cells because the cell is the smallest living component there is, and the chemical processes that take place there play a major role in how the cell functions in our body. For example, the brain has special cells that can communicate with each other through chemical signals. This vital communication has been shown to be dependent on the molecules in the cell’s membrane.
Ingela Lanekoff with the novel sample holder she helped developed. (Photo: University of Gothenburg)
Imaging the molecules in the membrane of individual cells enables researchers to measure changes. Together with previous results, Lanekoff’s findings show that the rate of communication in the studied cells is affected by a change of less than 1 percent in the quantities of a specific molecule in the membrane. This would suggest that communication between the cells in the brain is heavily dependent on the chemical composition of the membrane of each cell. This could be an important part of the puzzle and could go some way toward explaining the mechanisms behind learning and memory.
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