Hitchhiking through the nerve cell

"If you're going on a long journey, it's better to pack light and pack smart," says Angelika Harbauer, head of the research group Neurometabolism at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Intelligence, in foundation (i.f.). The sentence summarizes the motto by which cellular power plants known as mitochondria travel through the long extensions of nerve cells. Harbauer's research shows that, instead of a protein that is important to them, travelling mitochondria take along the blueprints needed to produce that protein. The results were published in the journal Neuron and have now been highlighted in a feature article in the journal Autophagy.

Proteins are biological machines that perform a wide variety of tasks. In one of her research projects, which started at Boston Children's Hospital in Tom Schwarz's group, Angelika Harbauer studies the production of one of these proteins in more detail. The PINK1 protein is found in mitochondria, the power plants of the cell, and ensures that defective mitochondria are sorted out and recycled. This prevents the cell from being damaged by defective mitochondria. PINK1 is needed wherever there are mitochondria. 

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