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Cornell Scientists Beginning to Understand Lipid Signaling in Cells; Could Be Key to Developing MS Therapies

August 4, 2016

Understanding lipid signaling in multiple sclerosis (MS) may be the key to developing more effective therapies for the disease. New work by researchers at Cornell University could bring us closer to unraveling the role of lipids in MS development.

Lipids are fat molecules that compose the cellular membranes and surround each organelle inside a cell. Besides being major components of the myelin sheaths that envelop nerve cells, lipids are known to participate in signaling processes inside cells, suggesting that alterations in lipid stability may be involved in a number of diseases, including MS.

In order to understand the processes in which a protein is involved, the scientists are tagging them with fluorescent probes. However, lipids are much more difficult to tag. The Cornell researchers have been working on techniques that might allow the visualization of lipids within the cell, making it possible to understand the signaling pathways in which they are involved.

“We’re taking advantage of chemical reactions to specifically tag lipids with different kinds of imaging agents, so we can track their behavior within living cells using a fluorescence microscope,” Jeremy Baskin, the principal investigator, said in a press release. “We pick components of cells that are hard to tag, so we have to use our ingenuity as chemists to find ways to selectively tag them.”