I have recently moved to Miami to join Dr. Mario Stevenson’s lab as a postdoc. I’m finally getting settled in so I can restart discussing with you my favorite topics.
Today, I would like to bring up the importance of receptors. When I first entered the molecular biology field, I was overwhelmed with acronyms and names. I found it really difficult to understand signaling because every type of biology (developmental biology, cancer biology, infectious disease, etc.) had their own jargon. Different fields usually work with different cell types (cardiac, immune subsets, nervous tissue, etc.) and it seemed that every cell had its own specific proteins. My eyes would glaze over and honestly I thought it was futile to try and learn every acronym, CD marker, etc. Somehow I forgot that practically every cell in the human body has the same DNA and components. The trick is to realize that EVERY cell uses the same signaling pathways (see 110128 post). Although the names of the individual enzymes/receptors may be different, they can be grouped into functional groups that have evolved from the same precursor.
As my research has brought me from the molecular and then cellular realms into trying to understand homeostasis in the body, I have learned one very important thing: look at the receptors!!! My goal has been to understand immunology, and I strongly feel that the knowledge gained by other fields (cancer, developmental biology, etc.) can be used in my own research. When trying to learn intercellular signaling, my initial thought was to look at similarities between ligands. By comparing ligands between two different fields (e.g. cytokines in immunology with growth factors in neurobiology), I often didn’t learn that much. Oftentimes, the ligands had not evolved from the same gene. One day I decided to change my approach and look at the evolution of receptors.
Eureka! I’m sure others have noticed this before, but the patterns jump out at you. If you are trying to learn about intercellular signaling in your field, try to look for patterns of signaling in other fields. Then look at the receptors and how they are related to each other. Biology is full of duplications and modifications, keep that in mind. Best of luck to you!
One really useful site for signaling and receptors is the KEGG site below (human shown, others available):