When it comes to speaking out, cells wait their turn
Cell communication is essential for the development of any organism. Scientists know that cells have the power to "talk" to one another, sending signals through their membranes in order to "discuss" what kind of cell they will ultimately become — whether a neuron or a hair, bone, or muscle. And because cells continuously multiply, it's easy to imagine a cacophony of communication.
But according to Dr. David Sprinzak, a new faculty recruit of Tel Aviv University's Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, cells know when to transmit signals — and they know when it's time to shut up and let other cells do the talking. In collaboration with a team of researchers at the California Institute of Technology, Dr. Sprinzak has discovered the mechanism that allows cells to switch from sender to receiver mode or vice versa, inhibiting their own signals while allowing them to receive information from other cells — controlling their development like a well-run business meeting.
"In one state, a cell can send a message and not receive, and in the other it receives and cannot send. They can talk or listen, but they cannot do both at the same time," says Dr. Sprinzak. He compares this communications system to a walkie talkie, in which only one user may be "on the air" at a time.
Sender and receiver behavior, says Dr. Sprinzak, not only determines how cells differentiate normally, but also how they differentiate in abnormal situations, such as when cancer cells are growing.
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This study will be helpful in cancer research.