According to study, researchers have described the architecture of the nuclear pore complex in yeast cells. The biological blueprint they uncovered shares principles sometimes seen on a much larger scale in concrete, steel, and wire. The gateway to cellular headquarters has 552 components. A new map that shows how all these pieces fit together could help scientists study numerous diseases. The study was published in Nature.

Like an island nation, the nucleus of a cell has a transportation problem. Evolution has enclosed it with a double membrane, the nuclear envelope, which protects DNA but also cuts it off from the rest of the cell. Nature's solution is a massive by molecular standards cylindrical configuration known as the nuclear pore complex, through which imports and exports travel, connecting the bulk of the cell with its headquarters.

"It reminds us of a suspension bridge, in which a combination of study and flexible parts produces a stress-resilient structure," says Michael P. Rout, who led the work together with Brian T. Chait. The pore complex contains 552 component proteins, called nucleoporins, and scientists hadn't previously known how they all fit together.

It took a combination of approaches to assembling a comprehensive map of these pieces. The researchers hope this new molecular structure will enable new studies of how the nuclear portal functions normally, and how defects in it lead to diseases such as cancer.

The pore complex first emerged when single-celled organisms the only living things at the time acquired special compartments containing organ-like structures, including the nucleus, which houses the cell's genetic code. "In the end, we used everything we could lay our hands on, brought the results together, and integrated them into a single structure," says Chait, who is Rockefeller's Camille and Henry Dreyfus Professor.

A new starting point

When it comes to the pore complex, yeast has a considerable amount in common with us. When the team compared their data with structural findings from human pore complexes, they found similar elements arranged somewhat differently. The resemblance suggests the yeast pore complex could be useful for research relevant to humans.

Defects in the pore complex and its components have been linked to a host of diseases, including autoimmune disorders and cancer; meanwhile, viruses have evolved ways to sneak past it altogether. But the details of these malfunctions and blind spots are often obscure.

The author found they could map sites that are altered in some cancers evidence, they say, that the yeast pore complex can be used to test how factors like stress, drugs, or mutations change the human structure, and so aiding efforts to understand and treat disease.