Cell Mates

    Discovery of new 'adaptin' protein may offer insight into the cause of some neurodegenerative disorders

    December 5, 2011

    Team's discovery of new 'adaptin' protein may offer insight into the cause of some neurodegenerative disorders

    Joel Dacks

    Joel Dacks: cell biology breakthrough

    While working on the genome of a harmless soil amoeba, U of A researcher Joel Dacks, ’95 BSc, had a eureka moment that could rewrite cell biology textbooks and give new hope to people suffering from such diseases as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

    What Dacks and his research team discovered is a fifth adaptin, the protein complexes involved in moving things in, out and around cells. Previously there were thought to be only four adaptins involved in this process. Dacks noticed that this fifth adaptin was present in plants and humans and although this protein had been identified in humans, it had been, says Dacks, “dismissed as essentially irrelevant or not a major player. But the fact that this protein was found in plants, humans and amoebas suggested that maybe it was more than just some extra little piece of unknown function in human cells.”

    Dacks enlisted the aid of the Robinson Lab in Cambridge, England, which has done extensive work on adaptin proteins. With University of Cambridge colleagues Jennifer Hirst and Margaret Robinson the fifth adaptin was ultimately discovered. Dacks was also assisted by U of A undergraduate students Gabriel Casey Francisco, ’11 BSc, and Lael Barlow, who helped complete the paper describing the discovery published October 11, 2011 in Public Library of Science Biology.

    “What this does for cell biology is open up a whole new avenue of research,” says Dacks. “You need to understand the basic map of the cell to be able to identify how it has gone wrong. We have discovered a previously unrecognized major feature on that map.”


    With files from Quinn Phillips (Express News) and Rachel Singer (The Gateway).