|Sandhill Crane migration, courtesy of Serge Melki|
Healing cells migrate toward injured tissue not unlike how animals carry out their annual migrations – which is to say that it’s all a bit of a mystery. Grantees at UC Davis are working to clear up at least some of the mystery as a first step in learning to how guide stem cells to where they are needed.
There’s some evidence that wounds disrupt normal electric currents, and that cells can navigate toward that disruptions. Min Zhao and his colleagues at UC Davis have been studying how the cells detect this current and migrate accordingly. A press release about their work, published in the April 8 issue of Current Biology, quotes Zhao:
“We know that cells can respond to a weak electrical field, but we don’t know how they sense it. If we can understand the process better, we can make wound healing and tissue regeneration more effective.
They went on to give this inspired description of how cells move:
Think of a cell as a blob of fluid and protein gel wrapped in a membrane. Cells crawl along surfaces by sliding and ratcheting protein fibers inside the cell past each other, advancing the leading edge of the cell while withdrawing the trailing edge.
Essentially, all those ratcheting and sliding fibers seem to respond to the electric signal, drawing the cell toward the negative electrode.
In his Basic Biology award, which funded this work, Zhao says he hopes to optimize the type of current needed to direct the migration of stem cells to sites where they are needed. He recently filmed an Elevator Pitch with us, describing how his work could be used to guide stem cells toward a brain region damaged by stroke.