When It Comes to Speaking Out, Cells Wait Their Turn

Watching cells communicate: CHO cells in listening (red) and sending (green) modes

Cell communication is essential for the development of any organism. Scientists know that cells have the power to “talk” to one another, sending signals through their membranes in order to “discuss” what kind of cell they will ultimately become — whether a neuron or a hair, bone, or muscle. And because cells continuously multiply, it’s easy to imagine a cacophony of communication.

But according to Dr. David Sprinzak, a new faculty recruit of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, cells know when to transmit signals — and they know when it’s time to shut up and let other cells do the talking. In collaboration with a team of researchers at the California Institute of Technology, Dr. Sprinzak has discovered the mechanism that allows cells to switch from sender to receiver mode or vice versa, inhibiting their own signals while allowing them to receive information from other cells — controlling their development like a well-run business meeting.

Dr. Sprinzak’s breakthrough can lead to the development of cancer drugs that specifically target these transactions as needed, further inhibiting or encouraging the flow of information between cells and potentially stopping the uncontrollable proliferation of cancer cells. Dr. Sprinzak’s research appeared in the journal PLoS Computational Biology.

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