Natural bioluminescence provides inside look at drug-cell interactions

Shrimp with natural bioluminescence, part of which can help determine drugs' interactions with cells.--Courtesy of NOAA

Many sea creatures, like shrimp, employ bioluminescence in the dark depths of the ocean, and scientists at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research are testing the proteins involved in that process to determine the way drugs interact with cells and help discover more efficient drug delivery methods.

The researchers published a study in the journal Nature Methods demonstrating that a portion of the bioluminescent luciferase enzyme they call NanoLuc coupled with a target receptor can give them clues as to the mechanism of certain treatments. Together, the compound lights up, allowing observers to keep track of a drug interaction when it comes in contact with a cell. They call the method NanoBRET, for bioluminescence resonance energy transfer.

"Understanding how ligands bind to receptors, as well as the strength and potency of binding, is incredibly important for drug discovery and development," lead researcher Kevin Pfleger told MedicalXPress. "These binding characteristics are indicative of how much drug would be needed to give an optimal treatment effect."

Part of the purpose of the research is to determine more precise ways by which a drug can interact with a cell. To do this, a drug doesn't necessarily have to bind to the same site that the natural compound might.

"If cell function is like playing the piano, most drugs slam the keys or close the lid," Pfleger said. "Allosteric modulation provides possibilities to get back the tune the body is trying to play."

- here's the MedicalXPress story
- and here's the abstract