SMALL cover for researchers

The image on the cover of Small, was especially designed for this issue at the request of the journal´s editors after the excellent reviews the article has received. The paper, entitled “Dynamic Re-organization of Individual Adhesion Nanoclusters in Living Cells by Ligand-Patterned Surfaces”, shows the use of patterned surfaces to monitor the distinct organization, both in space and time, of receptors of the immune system as they meet their counterpart ligands or molecules.

To understand this work in detail, it is important to explain, first of all, that cells communicate with each other and the outside world through a myriad of receptors located in its membrane. In recent years, it has become apparent that particular cellular functions are determined not only by the expression of these receptors but, most importantly, by the way they organize on the biological membrane both in space and time.

It is believed, for instance, that the recognition of pathogens by cells of the immune system or the signalling between cells to fight infections, occurs through a synchronised arrangement of receptors, similar to the way military troops are displayed in the battle field to maximise their collective strength, and then disperse rapidly once the battle is over.

Very little is known so far about how cells organize themselves, because this process occurs at a scale too small to be observed by conventional microscopes. The contribution made by the research group in this area has been to develop a simple and versatile platform that is used to create the so-called ligand patterns. The cells are then seeded over these patterns and, using a highly sensitive optical technique developed in the same group, researchers observe how natural receptors on the cell react to their counter-receptors placed in the pattern.

The work demonstrates the existence of an intricate coupling between biological membrane organization and cellular function. Understanding how receptors organise themselves on the membrane, can help to protect the human system against infections by viruses and pathogens, and eventually develop therapies to treat immune-related diseases selectively and more effectively.

The work published in Small was performed through an interdisciplinary collaboration between biophysicists from IBEC and CIBER-bbn and tumor immunologists from the NCMLS.

Small is one of the most important journals in the field of nanoscience, third in the ranking after Nature Nanotechnology and Nano Letters.