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James Zheng

Seeing the nuts and bolts of neurons

Cool photo alert! James Zheng’s lab at Emory is uncommonly good at making photos and movies showing how neurons remodel themselves. They recently published a paper in Journal of Cell Biology showing how dendritic spines, which are small protrusions on neurons, contain concentrated pools of G-actin.

Actin, the main component of cells’ internal skeletons, is a small sturdy protein that can form long strings or filaments. It comes in two forms: F-actin (filamentous) or G-actin (globular). It is not an exaggeration to call F- and G-actin neurons’ “nuts and bolts.”

Think of actin monomers like Lego bricks. They can lock together in regular structures, or they can slosh around in a jumble. If the cell wants to build something, it needs to grab some of that slosh (G-actin) and turn them into filaments. Remodeling involves breaking down the filaments.

At Lab Land’s request, postdoc and lead author Wenliang Lei picked out his favorite photos of neurons, which show F-actin in red and G-actin in green. Zheng’s lab has developed probes that specifically label the F- and G- forms. Where both forms are present, such as in the dendritic spines, an orange or yellow color appears.

Why care about actin and dendritic spines?

*The Journal of Cell Biology paper identified the protein profilin as stabilizing neurons’ pool of G-actin. Profilin is mutated in some cases of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), although exactly how the mutations affect actin dynamics is now under investigation.

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Posted on by Quinn Eastman in Neuro Leave a comment

Six beautiful images — choose your favorites

WoodruffMatthew1

Matthew Woodruff — Bali Pulendran lab

ImageJ=1.48g unit=micron

Kenneth Myers — James Zheng lab

Joshua_Strauss_OPE_Image

Joshua Strauss — Elizabeth Wright lab

AndersonJoAnna

JoAnna Anderson — Francisco Alvarez lab

AlexTamas

Alexey Tamas — Charles Searles lab

Emory’s Office of Postdoctoral Education is holding a Best Image contest. The deadline to vote is this Thursday, April 30. You can look at these beautiful images (and guess exactly what they are, based on what lab they come from), but to VOTE, you need to go to the OPE site.

This is part of the run up to their Postdoctoral Research Symposium at the end of May.

(Hat tip to Ashley Freeman in Dept of Medicine!)

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Posted on by Quinn Eastman in Uncategorized Leave a comment

Visualizing retrograde flow

This month’s intriguing image is a set of videos produced by cell biologist James Zheng’s laboratory. Looking at this video of a cell can be mesmerizing. The edges of the cell appear to be flowing inward, like a waterfall. Zheng explains that this is a phenomenon called “actin retrograde flow.”

Actin is a very abundant protein found in animals, plants and fungi that forms filaments, making up the cell’s internal skeleton. What we are seeing with retrograde flow is that molecules of actin are being added to one end of the filaments while coming loose from the other end.Actin

Zheng’s laboratory is studying a protein called cofilin, which disassembles actin filaments. Using a technique called CALI (chromophore-assisted laser inactivation) the scientists http://www.troakley.com/ used a laser to blast cofilin, inactivating it. This is why, partway through the loop, after the word CALI appears, the flow slows down. Postdoctoral fellow Eric Vitriol is the lead author on a paper in Molecular Biology of the Cell that includes these videos.

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