Cellular chirality: Origins of cellular handedness

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Origins of cellular handedness: A single protein senses left-right asymmetry and directs the entire cell’s behavior, maybe even further

Bershadsky and colleagues show that cells confined to circular adhesive patterns exhibit defined and dynamic self-assembly of their actin cytoskeleton into a chiral pattern with defined handedness, potentially informing left–right cell asymmetry. Source: MBI Sci Comms
Bershadsky and colleagues show that cells confined to circular adhesive patterns exhibit defined and dynamic self-assembly of their actin cytoskeleton into a chiral pattern with defined handedness, potentially informing left–right cell asymmetry. Image source: MBI Sci Comms

How cells can feel and differentiate between the left and right is an interesting question and a phenomenon observed in cells cultured on micropatterns.

Cytoskeletal protein actin, owing to its own handedness and polarity, has been studied for its role in cellular chirality but what could be the mechanism driving this cellular handedness?

Latest work by Dr Tee Yee Han from the Bershadsky group at the Mechanobiology Institute of Singapore and researchers from Israel and the USA provides unprecedented evidence of the role of actin’s handedness in the cellular behavior and its sense of left-right asymmetry. Actin’s radial fibres enriched by alpha-actinin underwent a unidrectional tilt and the transverse fibres underwent a tangential tilt to allow actin bundles to go from radial to chiral system when a fibroblast was cultured on circular adhesive (fibonectin-coated) islands. This was shown to be mainly driven by the protein alpha-actinin. This self-organization and intrinsic asymmetry of actin gives rise to a chiral pattern which in turn establishes the left-right asymmetry at a cellular level.

This discovery of the cytoskeletal mechanism could lead to further insights into the morphogentic processes during development both at single and multi-cellular level.

The original publication can be accessed here.

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Narmada did her undergraduate studies at Vellore Institute of Technology, India and her doctorate on 'Targeted gene therapy for liver fibrosis' at National University of Singapore. She is currently working on 'cardiac disease modeling with pluripotent stem cells' in the Vascular and Stem Cell Systems Group at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Singapore. Apart from a good chat on science and education, she is passionate about photography, traveling and of course cooking for survival.