Map cell structure by fusing images and protein interactions

If cells were “countries,” proteins would be their citizens organized into interconnected towns and villages. Thousands of proteins would populate each of these towns and villages and perform tasks essential to their functioning. Knowing the roles of each protein in the cell is essential for major advances in the fight against certain diseases such as cancer.

To date, two important experimental approaches have coexisted:

– intracellular localization: like countries, cells are made up of distinct “geographic areas” with specific characteristics. Determining the area in which a protein is located allows one to guess its function, up to a point.

– interactomics is the study of the interactions of a protein with other proteins in a cell. Identifying the “friends” of a protein also makes it possible to guess its role.

“1 + 1 = 3”

By combining these two sources of information, Denis Lafontaine’s team, RNA Molecular Biology, Faculty of Science, contributed to the discovery of a third layer of information, namely the detection of new protein communities and the prediction of their functions. Today their research has been published in Nature.

Our objective was to systematically establish the different levels of organization of the cell: towns, villages, hamlets, localities, etc. and their modes of interaction.

Denis Lafontaine, RNA Molecular Biology, Faculty of Science

“We were able to show that certain proteins were close or not close. This allowed us to predict and then verify their functions within the cell, ”explains Denis Lafontaine.

Among other things, the study identified new communities of proteins involved in the production of ribosomes, which are nanomachines essential to cell survival at the heart of Professor Lafontaine’s research for 20 years. When ribosomes are made in excess, we get cancer, and when not produced in sufficient quantities, ribosomopathies, which are developmental diseases mainly affecting the blood and the brain.


Free University of Brussels

Journal reference:

Qin, Y., et al. (2021) A multi-scale map of cell structure fusing images and protein interactions. Nature.

Ida M. Morgan