The 3Rs inside the cell

Yesterday, on Global Recycling Day, was a good moment to reflect more on protecting our environment and embracing the 3Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. And when we think about reusing and recycling in the cellular context, what first comes to mind? Of course, it’s autophagy, a cellular process in which the cell degrades and recycles its own constituents.

Just as recycling in our daily lives helps protect our natural resources, recycling inside the cell via autophagy is considered to play a largely pro-survival role. Under normal conditions, autophagy maintains cellular homeostasis by removing damaged organelles, misfolded proteins, and protein aggregates. Meanwhile, under stress, autophagy is activated to gather different energy sources, supply essential nutrients, and eliminate harmful substances.

Now, you might ask, what does Nanion have to do with autophagy? What does a company that primarily deals with automated electrophysiology, biophysics, cell analytics, ion channels, and transporters have to do with autophagy?

Firstly, with respect to the central role of lysosomes in autophagy, lysosomal ion channels and transporters (such as TRPML1, TMEM175, TPCs, CLC-3, CLC-7…) have been shown to significantly impact this vital process. Some of these are now regarded as promising therapeutic targets for lysosomal storage and neurodegenerative diseases. Our automated patch clamp and solid-supported membrane electrophysiology platforms have proved helpful in studying these important intracellular channels.

But beyond this, one of our instruments is used in autophagy studies more often than others. Can you guess which one it is?

The answer is the VesiclePrepPro.

This compact device simplifies the preparation of giant lipid vesicles (GUVs) to a process almost as straightforward as making a cup of coffee. Within a few minutes (depending on your needs), you can have thousands of GUVs of the desired size. You can incorporate integral or other proteins into the vesicles and then use them as a model to study these proteins. These GUVs can be patched or observed under a microscope.

In the context of autophagy, researchers have used GUVs to study ATG2-induced vesicle tethering, enhancement of lipid transfer by ATG9 and ATG13, the activity of membrane-tethered Rab5a GTPase, the activity of Vps34 complexes on large vesicles, the impact of lipid composition and membrane curvature on SNARE syntaxin 17 recruitment to lysosomes, Atg2 association with membranes carrying lipid-packing defects and more.

Great to see this small device, the VesiclePrepPro, making such significant strides in autophagy research.