When our cells bombard each other with chemical messages called ligands, it’s not always good news. In these breast cancer cells (with their nuclei stained blue) ephrin ligands have slotted into EphA2 receptors, ‘mailboxes’ on the cell surface (green), that set off chain reactions (pink) to alter the cells’ behaviour. A flood of ephrin messages can alter the cells’ responses (top middle and right cells), but so too can changing where and when the ligands hit – their spatial pattern. The cells on the bottom row were blasted with man-made nanostructures – tiny ‘frames’ of DNA which presented different patterns of ligands to receptors on each of the three cells, resulting in different patterns of pink-coloured activity. Manipulating these messages reveals a lot about cellular communication in general, but may also guide the development of drugs to change the behaviour of ligands like ephrin, a known instigator of breast cancer progression.
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