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The Motor Behind the Molecule

Scientists find power source for cellular energy

THURSDAY, Oct. 16, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- The power that drives "molecular motors" within cells has been identified by a team of researchers.

These molecular motors are proteins made up of amino acids like any other protein in a cell. Unlike other cellular proteins, these molecular motors move along cellular highways of tiny filaments called microtubules.

As the molecular motors move along these microtubules, they transport nutrients around the cell or heard chromosomes during cell division. It's believed that malfunctioning molecular motors may be responsible for some diseases, such as Down syndrome, caused by incorrect distribution of chromosomes during cell division.

Understanding how molecular motors work, how they organize chromosomes, and how they lead the cell through the division process may let scientists better understand and even prevent certain diseases.

In this study, the researchers focused on a motor molecule called Ncd (nonclaret disjunctional) and found that its movement occurs during the breakdown of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which occurs in all cells. ATP is a storage repository of energy for a cell.

This breakdown of ATP releases energy and results in changes to the Ncd motor molecule that provide it with its power.

The study appears in the Oct. 16 issue of European Molecular Biology Organization.

"I believe the findings of this study represent a breakthrough in our understanding of molecular motors and how they function," the team's leader, Duke University Medical Center cell biologist Sharyn Endow, says in a prepared statement.

"One of the major problems facing us in the field of molecular motor research is figuring out how the motor converts chemical energy into work or movement along microtubules. We believe we have found that mechanism for the force-producing stroke that directs the motor," she says.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about cells.

SOURCE: Duke University Medical Center, news release, Oct. 16, 2003
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