An array of differently functionalized beads attached to an AFM cantilever is used to examine which combination of mechanical and chemical stimuli leads to cell activation. Image credit: Volkmar Heinrich

How does a cell know just the right moment to tell its docking molecules when it is time to “let go” of another cell? Volkmar Heinrich, professor of Biomedical Engineering at UC Davis, has been awarded a four-year NIH R01 to investigate the role that cytoskeletal membrane anchors play as “switchboards” in communication between cells. Professors Soichiro Yamada and Scott Simon are co-investigators on the project.

The ability of cells to hold onto one another and let go at specific times plays an important part in many biological processes, such as the movement of immune cells toward sites of inflammation and the homing and invasion of cancer cells during metastasis. Dr. Heinrich’s project will use biophysical concepts to understand mechoregulatory processes that have not been observed using existing techniques. The research will yield new insight for ways to fight cancer, immune defects and other diseases. The project’s title is: “Cytoskeletal Membrane Anchors: Key Switchboards for Cellular Communication, Mechano-Sensing and –Regulation.”