Dr. Laurence Pelletier and his research team use breakthrough technology to visualize cell division in unprecedented detail
Dr. Laurence Pelletier and his research team at Mount Sinai’s Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute have used a new weapon to dissect the organization of a key structure required for proper separation of chromosomes in cell division. Their findings have implications for cancer and conditions related to defects in chromosome segregation, such as Down’s syndrome.
In a study published in the November 2012 issue of the leading journal Nature Cell Biology, Dr. Pelletier and his team studied the means by which chromosomes are precisely separated into the two daughter cells during cell replication. They focused on a previously poorly understood protein machine in cells called the centrosome. Centrosomes help to segregate genetic material during cell division; if they fail to act properly, this can cause a loss or gain of chromosomes, which can then lead to cancer.
“The centrosome is a critical quality control system for ensuring precision in the sorting of our chromosomes. We were able to visualize the molecules that comprise this machine in unprecedented detail using a new type of “super” microscope that has triple the resolution of conventional instruments,” explains Dr. Pelletier.
Centrosomes are made up of hundreds of proteins but they are so small that they appear as fuzzy blobs using traditional standard light microscopes. The super-resolution OMX microscope triples the amount of detail that could be seen with previously used light microscopes, allowing for scientists to see how proteins interact within the centrosome.
When Mount Sinai first acquired this state-of-the-art technology in 2008, it was only one of three places in the world to house such a microscope.
“Using these microscopes, we can now begin to understand areas in the cell which we used to think were disorganized or featureless. Conventional light microscopes or electron microscopes never gave us the resolution we needed to look at the organization of proteins in the cell,” says Dr. Pelletier.
He adds, “New technology drives these discoveries. In every research field, you hit bottlenecks, but this new microscope technology breaks through previous limitations.”
Funded by the Canadian Cancer Society,
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and The
Krembil Foundation, this fundamental study deepens our understanding
about what goes wrong with centrosomes in the development of