Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Genes at the flick of a light switch: Human cells fitted with synthetic signaling cascade

Date:
June 24, 2011
Source:
ETH Zürich
Summary:
Researchers from Switzerland have fitted human cells with a synthetic signaling cascade that can be used to switch on and regulate genes via blue light. This "gene light switch" makes interesting therapies possible, which could be used to treat type 2 diabetes, for instance.

Under a blue light, biotechnologically modified cells implanted in mice produce proteins that could one day be used for treatment purposes.
Credit: ETH Zurich/Martin Fussenegger

Researchers from ETH Zurich have fitted human cells with a synthetic signaling cascade that can be used to switch on and regulate genes via blue light. This "gene light switch" makes interesting therapies possible, which could be used to treat type 2 diabetes, for instance.

The latest feat to come out of Martin Fussenegger's lab almost sounds like science fiction: the professor of biotechnology and bioengineering and his team have constructed a genetic network in living cells that can be used to switch on and regulate specific genes via blue light. However, rather than create the whole network the bioengineers have merely connected up natural signaling pathways -- one from the eye and one from the immune system. The cells are inserted under the skin, complete with the functioning gene network, and blue light is shone onto the implant from outside. This enables the researchers to control the target gene with extreme precision, reports first author Haifeng Ye from Fussenegger's team in the latest issue of Science.

The "gene light switch" the scientists use to switch on the network is made of melanopsin, a protein found in the retina of the human eye that forms a complex with Vitamin A. When blue light hits this complex, the first signaling cascade is activated, which ensures that calcium accumulates inside the cell -- a process that also takes place naturally in the eye and is responsible for setting the biological clock in the brain every day. However, the scientists have re-connected it -- to a signaling pathway that plays a key role in immunoregulation.

Light against winter blues

The calcium inside the cell activates an enzyme that separates the phosphate group (P) from the protein NFAT-P. NFAT thus enters the cell nucleus, where it binds to a synthetic control sequence and switches on the target gene the researchers have introduced. The gene becomes active and the cell produces numerous copies of the protein, for which the gene is the blueprint. By controlling the amount of light and its intensity, the researchers can also regulate how much of the protein is produced. Switching the gene off is easy: light off, gene off. After all, without light melanopsin is no longer stimulated, no more calcium accumulates in the cells and the signal cascade is interrupted.

This artificial signaling cascade is synthesised in human cells which, suitably parcelled, are implanted in mice. The blue light reaches the cell implants either via an ultra-thin glass fibre optic cable or, if the implant is placed directly under the skin, simply by placing the animals under a blue lamp. For the light source, the researchers used commercially available LEDs or a blue-light lamp that is used to combat winter depression. Since it does not contain a UV proportion, the light is not harmful for the skin.

Diabetes treatment conceivable

In their experiments with cell cultures and mice, the researchers tested the light-controlled production of GLP-1, a hormone that controls the production of insulin directly and thus regulates the blood glucose level. And it showed the researchers that their approach works: the GLP-1 that was upregulated using light helped diabetic mice to improve the organism's insulin production, quickly remove the glucose from the blood and restore the blood-sugar balance in the organism.

Martin Fussenegger can imagine the GLP-1 gene therapy his team has developed replacing the classical injection of insulin for diabetics one day. People suffering from type 2 diabetes, for instance, could have an implant placed under the skin as outpatients. A black plaster containing LED lamps shields the relevant area of the skin from the daylight. As and when needed, such as after a meal, for instance, the patient switches on the LED lamps by pushing a button and shines them on the implant for a few minutes to stimulate the production of GLP-1. As soon as enough of the hormone is circulating in the body, the patient simply switches the lamps back off. "That's still the stuff of science fiction, though," stresses the ETH Zurich professor; it will be quite some time before we see a product like this on the market.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by ETH Zürich. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Haifeng Ye, Marie Daoud-El Baba, Ren-Wang Peng, Martin Fussenegger. A Synthetic Optogenetic Transcription Device Enhances Blood-Glucose Homeostasis in Mice. Science, 2011; 332 (6037): 1565-1568 DOI: 10.1126/science.1203535

Cite This Page:

ETH Zürich. "Genes at the flick of a light switch: Human cells fitted with synthetic signaling cascade." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 June 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110623141200.htm>.
ETH Zürich. (2011, June 24). Genes at the flick of a light switch: Human cells fitted with synthetic signaling cascade. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110623141200.htm
ETH Zürich. "Genes at the flick of a light switch: Human cells fitted with synthetic signaling cascade." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110623141200.htm (accessed September 17, 2014).

Share This



More Matter & Energy News

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Stocks Hit All-Time High as Fed Holds Steady

Stocks Hit All-Time High as Fed Holds Steady

AP (Sep. 17, 2014) — The Federal Reserve signaled Wednesday that it plans to keep a key interest rate at a record low because a broad range of U.S. economic measures remain subpar. Stocks hit an all-time high on the news. (Sept. 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space Race Pits Bezos Vs Musk

Space Race Pits Bezos Vs Musk

Reuters - Business Video Online (Sep. 16, 2014) — Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' startup will team up with Boeing and Lockheed to develop rocket engines as Elon Musk races to have his rockets certified. Fred Katayama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
MIT's Robot Cheetah Unleashed — Can Now Run, Jump Freely

MIT's Robot Cheetah Unleashed — Can Now Run, Jump Freely

Newsy (Sep. 16, 2014) — MIT developed a robot modeled after a cheetah. It can run up to speeds of 10 mph, though researchers estimate it will eventually reach 30 mph. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Manufacturer Prints 3-D Car In Record Time

Manufacturer Prints 3-D Car In Record Time

Newsy (Sep. 15, 2014) — Automobile manufacturer Local Motors created a drivable electric car using a 3-D printer. Printing the body only took 44 hours. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins