Biosensor beacon

Courtesy of Carsten Grashoff, Brenton Hoffman, and Martin Schwartz

The paper

C. Grashoff et al., “Measuring mechanical tension across vinculin reveals regulation of focal adhesion dynamics,” Nature, 466:263-66, 2010. Free F1000 Evaluation

The tool

Mechanical force affects a wide range of biological phenomena, from DNA replication to strengthening bones, yet there was “no calibrated method of tracing which proteins and which structures actually carry the force” in a cell, said Martin Schwartz of the University of Virginia. So Schwartz and colleagues designed a biosensor that measures force across a protein in a living cell with piconewton sensitivity.

The technique

The researchers attached fluorescent tags to each end of a spring-like peptide that would glow brightly when the spring collapsed under lack of tension (force). The sensing tool was then spliced in between the head and tail regions of vinculin, a protein present in focal adhesions that links...

The finding

Using the biosensor, Schwartz showed that the vinculin molecules at the leading edge of a migrating cell were subject to a greater force than the vinculin at the rear of the cell, where the cell released its attachment proteins.

The demand

“This paper introduces a promising new technology to biomechanics,” writes Faculty Member Harold Erickson in his review. Already, Schwartz says he's been bombarded with requests for the tool.

F1000 evaluators: H. Erickson (Duke Univ Med Ctr) • V. Tang (UI-Urbana-Champaign) • M. Morgan and M. Humphries (Univ Manchester) • J. Lammerding (Brigham and Women’s Hosp, Harvard Med School) • M. Maddugoda and A. Yap (Inst for Mol Bioscience, Australia Cell Biology) • D. Webb (Vanderbilt Univ Med Ctr.)

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