Cellular survival relies crucially on the ability to receive and communicate signals from and to the outside world. A major part of this regulation and communication is performed by proteins within the membrane of a cell. How these proteins work is an important topic in biology, and one which these scientists have excellently clarified by computational techniques.

Tristan Ursell and colleagues have examined the elasticity of the membrane, which changes thickness to accommodate the proteins embedded within it. Proteins respond to stimuli by altering their shape to perform specific tasks, such as channel proteins, which allow the flow of ions in only one formation. Ursell created a physical model which shows that the membrane itself can communicate structural and hence formational information between membrane proteins. Hence, proteins can "talk" and "respond" to each other using the membrane as a generic "voice."

This is an exciting development, published in PLoS Computational Biology, which shows that the membrane's elastic forces can ultimately dictate the formation, organization, and therefore effects, of the proteins within it.

Source: CITATION: Ursell T, Huang K, Peterson E, Phillips R (2007) Cooperative gating and spatial organization of membrane proteins through elastic interactions. PLoS Comput Biol 3(4): e81. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0030081