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Stanford chemists craft molecular scalpels to clear unwanted proteins from cell surfaces

Close up of proteins on the cell surface.
Image credit: Steven Banik
Jul 29 2020
Fellow, Research, Stanford, Students

When scientists find a potentially dangerous protein on a cell, they might imagine shrinking themselves down to become tiny surgeons, cutting out just the problematic molecule and leaving the healthy parts of the cell intact. While deft hands and sharp instruments would never be able to excise a single protein from the surface of a cell, a new molecular tool could make cellular surgery easier, according to a study published in Nature on July 29.

Stanford chemists have developed a new class of molecules that shuttle unwanted proteins from the surface or surrounding environment of a cell into the lysosome, the cellular compartment devoted to protein degradation. These molecules, called lysosome targeting chimeras, or LYTACs, work by selectively tagging a protein with a label that seals its fate for cellular garbage disposal. This selective degradation could help researchers study and treat diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s, whose causes are linked to surface proteins.

Study co-author Kayvon Pedram is a 2015 Stanford Graduate Fellow.

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