Inside Salk - May 2011 - page 9

Björn Lillemeier
: Decoding cellular signals
Björn Lillemeier, assistant professor in both theWaitt Advanced
Biophotonics Center and theNomis Foundation Laboratories for Immunobiology and
Microbial Pathogenesis, uses advanced biophotonics to study the complex structure
of plasmamembranes—the outer shell of cells—and how they contribute to relaying
molecular signals in T-cells.
Studies of plasma membrane–associated signaling had been hampered by
the limited resolution of light microscopy. Lillemeier’s laboratory is overcoming that
problem through the development of high-resolution imaging techniques that allow
researchers to observe directly the spatial distribution of membrane-associated
molecules on a nanometer scale.
Using advanced biophotonics, for example, Lillemeier discovered that membrane-
associated proteins are clustered into what he calls “protein islands,” which led to a
new concept about the architecture of plasma membranes. In the past, he explains,
it was possible to see that signalingmolecules would come together in clusters, but
where themolecules ended up within a cluster was thought to be random. Now, with
the ability to look at them inmuchmore detail, it is clear that these clusters have
sub-organizations to them, which affect themolecular mechanisms of signaling.
“We are now developing super-resolutionmicroscopy that basically canmeasure
molecule distributions down to ten nanometers,” Lillemeier says. “The great thing
about these new technologies is that we can now close the gap in our understanding
of how thesemechanisms become altered in diseased cells, whichwill provide routes
to potentially new therapies for autoimmune diseases and cancer.”
Björn Lillemeier
From left: Rudolf & Sletten’sMartin Sisemore (president) andReneOlivo (vice president of operations) get an insider’s look
at Björn Lillemeier's super-resolutionmicroscope.
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