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Follow the Signs

Insight into how the arrangement of the cytoskeleton is controlled

25 June 2021

Follow the Signs

Following the signs on a motorway spaghetti junction is hard enough, so how do developing neurons [brain cells] know where to go to weave the complex network of the human brain? Receptor proteins steer them towards or from signals in the environment. One example is the Robo receptor which reacts to the Slit signal. The course change is performed by the actin cytoskeleton (highlighted blue in the neuron pictured), which gives cells their structure. Researchers examined how Robo guides the skeleton in fruit flies, and found that it binds to Slit on the outside of the cell, and simultaneously to a complex inside the cell, which in turn rearranges the cytoskeleton. If this complex is disrupted, developing neurons can’t find their way. Robo and Slit can also be involved in cancer development when things go wrong, so revealing how they interact could mean progress in more directions than one.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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