If you were building a highway, would you let the builders read the blueprint and then just freehand the job? If you were getting a tattoo, would you be okay describing what you want to the artist and just letting him/her have at it on your skin? The answer to both these questions is (hopefully) no. Your body feels the same way about growing cells. Laminin is the scaffolding, the outline, the skeleton structure, that cells and tissue grow on. It’s their guide and their direction.
DNA gives your cells the instructions on how to make certain proteins, but laminin is the protein that tells the cells where to go, what to adhere, what NOT to adhere to, what shape they need to be in, and what they need to differentiate into. Like soil to plants, laminin is used as a substrate to grow neurons. Not only do they form independent networks, laminins also bind to cell membranes to talk to and direct cells. Certain sections of the laminin protein contain polypeptide sequences that are crucial for this conversation to happen.
The structure of laminin is made up of three different chains. Mix and match these combinations together and you get 15 different trimers (that have been identified). They are associated with other soft tissue and connective tissue proteins such as collagen IV, entactin, fibronectin, and perlecan. Given all these proteins, it’s not difficult to see why scientists of the past called proteins “the stuff of life”. If someone magically took all the protein out of your body, you wouldn’t look much like you at all!
When Laminin Isn’t Made Right
Since laminin plays such a large role in the structure of tissues, misformed versions of certain types of laminin can lead to things like muscular dystrophy, junctional epidermolysis bullosa, and even kidney issues. Oh, and if you’re wondering what that second to last condition is, junctional epidermolysis bullosa causes skin to bleed easily, become fragile, blistered, and scarred.
Since laminin also helps cells migrate, it plays a role in the spreading of cancer cells. Most cells in the body do not move around. If they do, they die. However, cancer cells have acquired the mutations to become invasive. And the way they do this is by activating Laminin B1 and using this highway to spread throughout the body.
Laminin For You
There are “sexy” and popular cells and proteins in our body. Everyone knows what a neuron is, everyone knows what collagen or keratin is. But laminin is the underrated, overlooked protein that holds everything together. Literally. Whether you are already familiar with the story of laminin or you found this newsletter to be enlightening, our laminin piece is ready to go home with you and eager to share its story with your friends. Purchase it for yourself or for a friend. It makes a great gift for lab technicians, oncologists, biochemists, and starry-eyed pre-med students.
written by Science with Evie