In other exciting science news: James Rothman, Randy Schekman, and Thomas Sudhof won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Their joint research found that “vesicles” act like a fleet of ships transporting their goods to the exact destination. Cell regulation is extremely important and these vesicles,  tiny bubbles of fat, act as the cell’s internal shipping service. They can send material such as enzymes, neurotransmitters and hormones, around the cell. Or they can fuse with the outer surface of the cell and release their contents into the wider body.

Timing is Everything

Each scientist worked in harmony on the three components of the findings.

  • Schekman discovered specific gene encoding proteins that regulate and control the vesicle traffic inside the cell to the different compartments called organelles.
  • For his part, Rothman discovered a protein complex on the vesicles that allow them to bind to proteins on the target cell membrane. This means the vesicle would end up at the correct location and the cargo molecules inside are correctly delivered.
  • As for the timing, Sudhof found  calcium plays a role in how signals are transmitted from a nerve cell to another in the brain. The molecular machinery senses the calcium ions, which allows the vesicles to fuse to the membrane and release signaling substances on command. This  explains how an important molecule, such as insulin, would be exported out of the cell at precisely the right time.

Breakthrough Health Findings 

“They have revolutionized understanding of how cells are organised which is fundamental to huge number of diseases,” said Dr Lisa Swanton of the University of Manchester.

So why does this matter in terms of health? When cells are functioning properly vesicles carry  molecules (these can be hormones or neurotransmitters) to the correct place inside or outside the cell.  These molecules and their timing to various other parts of the body are crucial for overall physiological health. For example, metabolic activity is regulated, in the case of hormones. Defective vesicle transport is evident in a variety of diseases including neurological and immunological disorders, and in diabetes. Something so small- this tiny vesicle and its corresponding processes- something you may never even think about has a huge impact on your body. Without this wonderfully precise organization, the cell would lapse into chaos.

View the PDF for a better visual example of how vesicles work within your body.