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About SickKids

January 10, 2008

SickKids scientists discover new method to track an important lipid in the cell

Toronto - An important cellular membrane lipid, phosphatidylserine (PS), through its negative charge, is responsible for regulating the surface charge of cellular membranes, a biophysical entity that can impact the function of many signaling proteins in the cell. Up until now, the distribution of this lipid within the cell was poorly understood, due to the lack of available experimental tools. By creating a novel biosensor that can recognize this lipid specifically, the precise localization of PS in the cell has been revealed. This discovery, published tomorrow in the journal Science , opens new paths in the study of this lipid in the cell.

“This finding furthers our understanding of the functions of this lipid within the cell and has significant implications in intracellular signaling,” says Dr. Tony Yeung, a former graduate student at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), and lead author of the study.

Yeung and supervisor Dr. Sergio Grinstein, senior scientist and Pitblado Chair in Cell Biology at SickKids first engineered a fluorescent biosensor using a protein from milk. When this fluorescent biosensor, or probe, was introduced into the cell, it was able to track where normal PS accumulated because it was specifically attracted to this lipid. By following the fluorescent signals emitted by this probe using a specialized microscope, Yeung and Grinstein were able to ascertain where this lipid is located within the cell, and to better understand its behaviour and function. PS is likely to be important for the normal functioning of proteins such as K-Ras and Src, which are signaling molecules commonly found to be mutated in certain cancers.

“This can lead to further understanding not only of the signaling pathways involving these proteins, but can also make it possible for us to someday manipulate their functions or repair malfunctions in a clinical setting,” says Grinstein.

This research was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), affiliated with the University of Toronto, is Canada's most research-intensive hospital and the largest centre dedicated to improving children's health in the country. As innovators in child health, SickKids improves the health of children by integrating care, research and teaching. Our mission is to provide the best in complex and specialized care by creating scientific and clinical advancements, sharing our knowledge and expertise and championing the development of an accessible, comprehensive and sustainable child health system. For more information, please visit www.sickkids.ca . SickKids is committed to healthier children for a better world.

For more information, please contact:

Janice Nicholson
Public Affairs
The Hospital for Sick Children
Phone: 416-813-6684
Fax: 416-813-5328
email: janice.nicholson@sickkids.ca