Cell Particles Moving Faster in a Crowd: Researchers Claim

Monday, September 2, 2019 - 12:39

Researchers from Pennsylvania State University have discovered that cell particles move more quickly through a crowded cellular environment when the crowding molecules are non-uniformly distributed.

According to the university’s official website, the result of the research, released online in the journal ACS Nano, can help researchers to better understand cellular processes that require multiple molecules to “find” each other in the crowded environment of the cell.

The researchers compared the movement of various “tracer” colloids — insoluble particles suspended in a liquid — through different environments using microfluidics. A microfluidic device can be filled with different solutions in which the researchers establish gradients — from high to low — of “crowder” macro-molecules in the fluid. The tracers, which can be large or small, hard or soft and deformable, are fluorescently labeled allowing the researchers to track their movement with a confocal microscope.

“We were surprised to see that the tracers moved faster in gradients of crowders than they did through a fluid with no crowders at all,” said Farzad Mohajerani, a graduate student in chemical engineering at Penn State and co-first author of the paper. “We think that the densely packed crowders actually put a pressure on the tracers to force them toward less dense areas. Large tracer molecules moved faster than small ones, and soft, deformable tracers moved faster than hard ones. “

As Ayusman Sen, Verne M. Willaman Professor of Chemistry and distinguished professor of chemistry and chemical engineering at Penn State, and one of the leaders of the research team said “Our experiments and model not only show that molecules can move faster through gradients of macromolecular crowding, we think that these rates of movement may increase further inside actual living cells where other active moving molecules could increase the crowding pressure.”

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