Interdisciplinary King's team solves lipid enigma
A team of multidisciplinary researchers led by Dr Riki Eggert, Randall Division of Cell & Molecular Biophysics and the Department of Chemistry at King’s College London, have systematically studied for the first time how certain molecules, called lipids, participate in a basic biological process. The study, published this week by Cell, has important implications for the scientific understanding both of basic biology and of disease.
Lipids are one of the key building blocks of cells, and include fats, waxes and sterols, such as cholesterol. However, little is understood about how lipids work and why so many different lipid species are produced. This study marks one of the first attempts to systematically address these questions. The team has identified for the first time how lipids change during a basic cellular process, using cell division as an example.
The researchers showed that cells use chemical specificity and highly precise regulation of their lipid composition and localization as they go through the division process, suggesting that lipids have much more complex functions than just being part of a passive cellular barrier, as was traditionally thought.
The main possible functions of lipids could be two-fold: they could work together with other cellular building blocks to transmit signals and/or they could have mechanical roles, for example by stabilizing different membrane curvatures.
Dr Eggert and team propose that both of these roles are important during cell division. For example, the mechanical properties of lipids from dividing cells were shown to be different than from non-dividing cells.
Speaking about the work, Dr Eggert says: ‘It was tremendously exciting working on this study, not only because of the novel advances we were making, but also because of the diversity of people within King’s who were involved. I was delighted to collaborate with Dr Sergi Garcia-Manyes’ team (Department of Physics and the Randall Division), whose expertise in biophysical analysis methods such as atomic force microscopy proved vital to our work. This interdisciplinary research effort will continue as we move forward to investigate the functions of the lipids we identified in more detail, which is next on our agenda.’
Many diseases and certain cancers have been associated with changes in lipid behaviour, such as for example raised cholesterol levels are often linked to cardiovascular disease, but therapeutic advances based on this knowledge have not been made as extensively as they could have been because of the paucity of understanding about how lipids work. By increasing the basic understanding of lipids, this study could potentially pave the way for future therapeutic efforts.