Viruses, bacteria and harmful substances should not enter the cell nucleus, but the body's own messenger substances should. Researchers at the University of Mainz and the Max Planck Institute of Biophysics in Frankfurt have discovered how the cell ensures this. For their work, published in the journal "Nature", they investigated the nuclear pores through which molecules are exchanged between the DNA stored in the nucleus and the rest of the cell.

Sascha Zoske

Newspaper editor in the Rhein-Main-Zeitung.

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Each of the approximately 2000 pores consists of about 1000 proteins, some of which take over the function of doorkeepers. About 300 of these proteins are attached to the skeleton of the pore and protrude deep into its central opening. How they deter unwanted intruders was previously unknown.

New medicines and vaccines

The biophysicists have now made these proteins visible under the microscope using fluorescent dyes. This showed that the thread-like proteins are constantly moving, like "wriggling spaghetti in boiling water," according to the researchers. Viruses and bacteria are too large to pass through this constantly moving sieve. Molecules that would be needed in the nucleus, on the other hand, could overcome it thanks to a special chemical signature, a kind of entrance ticket.

The "spaghetti" proteins are found in the nuclei of almost all animal and plant species, although they form aggregates during the aging process that could lead to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, the biophysicists write. If we succeed in better understanding the function of these proteins, new drugs and vaccines could be developed to prevent viral infections and promote healthy aging.