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Published on-line at 06:29:41 PM on Friday, April 3rd, 2015

Shining light on cellular functions

In multicellular organisms the coordinated functions of different organs is maintained through the continuous exchange of information among many different types

In multicellular organisms the coordinated functions of different organs is maintained through the continuous exchange of information among many different types of cells. This dynamic equilibrium is achieved through the controlled release of “messages” in the form of hormones, neurotrasmitters, cytokines, etc. that,  produced by one cell type, reach their targets on other cells and eventually modify their functions.  The vast majority of these messages interact with receptors on the cell surface that in turn activate complex signals within the cell interior  that are the final regulators of the specific cell response to the extracellular messages. Alterations in these intracellular signals are at the basis of most human diseases and many of the present pharmacological treatments have been designed to modulate these signals. In my presentation I will describe the approaches used to quantitatively monitor in living cells  the dynamic changes of these signals in response to external messages  using specific molecularly engineered fluorescent molecules that change their colour intensity or spectra in response to modifications in these intracellular signals.  I will also describe a few examples of the use of these probes for the understanding of physiological or pathological processes.