Some cell membrane proteins are affected by forces of attraction at a great distance, in ways that influence the behavior of proteins, including by contributing to reactions to allergens such as pollen, which eventually cause sneezing.

outline of membranes of cells

A team of physicists at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, has now identified the physical mechanisms of such attractions between proteins, which occur as a result of changes in cell membranes.

The team of Jim Sethna, professor of physics at that university, took as its starting point the recent research finding that cell membranes can be separated into two liquid phases, style such as oil and water, following patterns that in some respects are fractal type. The resulting physical fluctuations lead to very long-range attractions between certain proteins, depending on the fractal patterns.

These changes take place at the critical point of separation of liquid-liquid phases of the cell membrane. That critical point is the subtle composition and temperature boundary separating the two phases. Proteins located at this critical point are able to feel the forces at 20 nanometers apart, a remarkable distance at that scale.

Experiments by Ben Machta team are a step in a line of research followed earlier by Sarah Veatch, who has studied the cell membranes of immune cells and demonstrated phase separation liquid-liquid.