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Neutrons—Insight into human tissue

As determined by small angle neutron scattering, this complex of proteins—alpha-catenin, shown in blue; beta-catenin, shown in purple; and E-cadherin, shown in yellow—is the central component of the adhesion junction, which transmits mechanical stress from cell to cell. Credit: Jill Hemman/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Researchers used neutron scattering at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Spallation Neutron Source and High Flux Isotope Reactor to better understand how certain cells in human tissue bond together. They learned that specialized cell-to-cell adhesion complexes, known as adherens junctions, use flexible proteins to attach themselves to neighboring cells and build larger biological structures. “Neutrons gave us a clear picture of how these adherens junctions work together to create more complicated cell-to-cell interactions, which is crucial for everything from embryo development to wound healing,” said ORNL’s Shuo Qian. Published in PNAS, this research provides new insight into proteins involved in cancer and vascular disease, both of which have been linked to dysfunctional adherens junctions. Complementary measurements were made at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.—Gage Taylor