Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Stretchy Simulations
18 February 2018

Stretchy Simulations

We all lose that youthful glow over time, partly because of diminishing elastin levels. This protein doesn't just give us great-looking skin, it enables many tissues to stretch and contract, including our lungs and arteries. Elastin works by forming fibres that weave around our tissues, which are also bathed in water. These fibres form when elastin aggregates, though how wasn’t entirely clear. Researchers investigated how using computer simulations (pictured) of the hydrophobic domains contained within elastin. These domains don’t like water but are central to elastin’s stretchy abilities. A common way to shield hydrophobic domains from water is to bury them deep within proteins in structures called hydrophobic cores. However simulations revealed elastin-like proteins don't do this. Quite the opposite; water (cyan) is spread throughout the elastin aggregates. Nonetheless, careful construction keeps the hydrophobic domains (yellow) conveniently away from all that water, revealing the molecular details of elastin’s stretchiness.

Written by Lux Fatimathas

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