Faculty scientists have identified how cells control the recycling of Cellmigrationmolecules, a process which is essential for their movement. This discovery provides a better understanding of how our bodies heal wounds.

Dr Mark Morgan and his team at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Matrix Research have been studying the role of integrins in this process. Integrins are molecules capable of grabbing hold of the fibres that surround the cell, allowing the cell to drag itself along. However, there are several types of integrin on the cell surface and their varying properties affect how quickly the cell moves.

Once used by the cell, integrins are moved inside the cell and stored. When necessary, they are recycled back to the surface where they can once again bind with the surrounding fibres. Dr Morgan’s team uncovered the method by which cells control the type of integrins recycled. They found that Syndecan-4, another cell surface molecule, is able to detect and interpret subtle changes in the cell’s surface and respond accordingly. Dr Morgan says:

“Syndecan-4 plays a critical role in regulating wound healing, so, ultimately, we hope that this work will inform the development of novel therapeutic strategies to improve wound healing.”

The team identified the role of Syndecan-4 using sophisticated imaging techniques to study the movement of fibroblast cells. Dr Morgan explained their findings:

“When we changed the way Syndecan-4 senses the environment outside the cell, we were able to alter the way that it transmits signals into the cell and control integrin recycling. By manipulating the molecules in this way we found that we could either force the cells to move in a fast forward motion or stop altogether.”

The team plan to investigate how Syndecan-4 can be manipulated to control cell movement, and if new wound healing strategies can be developed as a result. They will also test whether this mechanism is involved in tumour progression and metastasis as disruptions in cell movement are often seen in cancer, vascular disorders, and chronic inflammatory disease.

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