With the aid of a high-powered electron microscope, the investigators observed that certain lipid molecules in the plasma membrane respond to an electrical charge, which in turn amplifies the output of the Ras signaling circuit. This is exactly like a transistor in an electronic circuit board.
Yong Zhou, Ph.D., first author and assistant professor of integrative biology and pharmacology at UTHealth Medical School, said, "Our results may finally account for a long-standing but unexplained observation that many cancer cells actively try to reduce their electrical charge."
Initial work was done with human and animal cells and findings were subsequently confirmed in a fruit fly model on membrane organization.
"This has huge implications for biology," Hancock said. "Beyond the immediate relevance to K-Ras in cancer, it is a completely new way that cells can use electrical charge to control a multitude of signaling pathways, which may be particularly relevant to the nervous system."