(May 8, 2019) – Dysfunctions and malformations in the scaffold of a cell are thought to contribute to heart muscle weakness, neurodegenerative disease and even deafness. Now biophysics research at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) has taken a closer look at a cell’s cytoskeleton and found a new purpose: It aids in energy transfer and information processing in neurons.
Marcelo Marucho, an associate professor in the UTSA Department of Physics and Astronomy, studies, in particular, the cytoskeleton’s actin filaments and microtubules for the past 4 years. He works to track how the transfer of energy along these structures impacts cellular function.
The research proposes that structural changes in the filaments (mutations) and alteration in the biological fluids break down the equilibrium and competition between the molecular mechanisms that dominate the bundling and transmission properties of cytoskeleton filaments in normal conditions. This, in turn, yields impaired assembly and defective electric signal propagation along these filaments leading to cellular pathology.
Age and hereditary factors are known to contribute to the development of diseases, however Marucho’s research provides insight into how the cytoskeleton’s electrical properties contribute to the degradation of a cell.
“There is evidence that filaments conduct electricity, like an electrical cord,” said Marucho, who combines both biology and physics to understand what he calls the bionanowire—a cell’s electrical cable. “The filaments, F-Actin and microtubules, are able to propagate electrical impulses inside neurons. This property is something that scientists generally haven’t considered.”
The cell’s cytoskeleton, or filaments, are responsible for a cell’s shape. They also organize cellular parts and impact a cell’s movement and division. But Marucho believes that cells cytoskeleton filaments are also capable of conducting electrical energy.
The UTSA researcher developed multi-scale models with patch clamp and light scattering experiments to determine how electricity spreads and how it affects the mechanical properties of filaments. These preliminary results will help him better understand the normal conditions that allow the cell’s bionanowire to develop.
“We also want to elucidate how the pH solution, salts including amount and type, generate the correct healthy formation of cytoskeleton structures,” said Marucho. “Biological fluid is a necessary medium to mediate the interactions between cytoskeleton filaments.”
In total, Dr. Marucho was awarded $1.5 million in research funding over four years from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue his work on Actin filaments and to look more in-depth at microtubules.
This NIH grant is part of a banner year for research dollars at UTSA. In FY 2018 alone, UTSA’s total research and development expenditures reached $69.7 million.
Learn more about the Marucho Lab.
Explore a degree in the UTSA Department of Physics and Astronomy.
Celebrate UTSA’s 50th Anniversary and share social media posts about the 50th using the hashtag #UTSA50.
Jenny Hsieh, professor and Semmes Foundation Chair in Cell Biology and director, UTSA Brain Health Consortium provides an engaging look into the world of gene editing.South Texas Research Facility, 8403 Floyd Curl Dr., San Antonio
UTSA will offer science, engineering, architecture, sports, music, writing and language and culture camps for kids, teens and adults. Register now.Various locations, Main and Downtown Campuses
Future Roadrunners and families prepare for everything they need to know before the fall semester.Various locations, Main and Downtown Campuses
Join us for cupcakes and lots of Roadrunner spirit as we celebrate the day UTSA was created by the Texas Legislature.Sombrilla, Main Campus and Frio Street Commons, Downtown Campus
Join us as we celebrate this momentoud day in UTSA history by paying homage to the moment Governor Preston Smith signed the legislation creating UTSA exactly 50 years ago on June 5, 1969.The Alamo, 300 Alamo Plaza, San Antonio
The State of Hand Stitch is a survey of eleven women artists in Texas working with thread and needle at a time when embroidery is increasingly recognized as a medium of choice by serious artists. Opening reception is June 5 at 5pm. Exhibit continues through Aug. 9.Arts Building, Main Art Gallery (ART 2.03.04), Main Campus
For the 48th year, the ITC brings culture to life with music, dance, artisanship, food and hands-on experiences that connect Texans to their roots.UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures, Hemisfair Campus
The fifth annual SAMHS and Universities Research Forum (SURF) is a regional event that highlights the latest research and discoveries of trainees, faculty, staff and students working to improve health outcomes.H-E-B Student Union Ballroom (HSU 1.106),Main Campus
The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.
To be a premier public research university, providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.
We encourage an environment of dialogue and discovery, where integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and innovation are fostered.