Rapid information transfer is vital for the inner workings of body tissues. With computer simulations, researchers from Colombia and Germany found that mechanical pulses travel through membranes for biologically relevant distances at the speed of sound. The researchers think that membranes could serve as a tin can telephone for the cell.
Using computer simulations, HITS scientists found out that the forces acting on the membranes propagate at a very high velocity, similar to the speed of sound.
Biological membranes are essential for any form of life. They are the wrapping for the precious molecules of life inside the cell. Membranes also contain many important molecules themselves, such as lipids arranging as a bilayer and proteins embedding into such bilayer, which allows tightly controlled information exchange with the outside. Cells and thus their membranes are constantly pushed and pulled by their neighboring cells, while cells divide, communicate, move, or die.
Researchers have long been wondering whether such poking mechanical forces could propagate along the membrane just like sound waves. In a recent study, Camilo Aponte-Santamaría from the University of los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, and Jan Brunken and Frauke Gräter from the Molecular Biomechanics group at the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS), Germany, used computer simulations to demonstrate that mechanical pulses propagate through membranes at very high speeds of kilometer per second comparable to the speed of sound.
Chasing these fast, noisy and tiny pulses in the computer has been a particular challenge for researchers so far. Aponte-Santamaría, Brunken, and Gräter therefore developed tailor-made Force Distribution Analysis. This analysis allowed to find out that a pulse can travel for tens of nanometers so that it reaches many biomolecules embedded in the membrane within as little as one millionth of one millionth of a second, before attenuation.
Rapid information transfer across cells is vital for the inner workings of our tissues, from brain to muscle. The researchers think that the traveling of pulses through membranes could be a kind of tin can telephone for the cell. The actual nature and role of such ultrafast information transfer, however, remains to be tested in future experimental studies.
MEDICA-tradefair.com; Quelle: Heidelberger Institut für Theoretische Studien gGmbH