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Department of Chemistry


Courtesy Dr Barth van Rossum

Researchers in the Duer group have used an enhanced NMR technique combined with improved isotope labelling to identify for the first time chemicals vital for assembling and maintaining the structure of connective tissues such as bone and cartilage.

Working with researchers in Berlin, the team used an emerging NMR technique called Dynamic Nuclear Polarization (DNP), which enhances the sensitivity of NMR to even very low abundance chemical species in tissue.  They used the technique to analyse mouse tissue labelled with the NMR active stable isotope carbon-13 (provided by colleagues from Kings College London and the Babraham Institute) which increases the sensitivity of the analysis even further.  This dual strategy enabled the group to detect very low concentration molecules which have been implicated as critical to collagen structure but never before observed in whole tissue by any technique.

Professor Melinda Duer's research group investigates the detailed structure of chemical species in the human body and their roles in assembling and maintaining collagen.  “Collagen is the basic building block of all connective tissues in the body, including bone, cartilage, skin, blood vessels and tendons,” says Dr David Reid, who played a key role in the study.  “These findings could suggest new therapies for connective tissue diseases such as osteoarthritis and diabetes, and metastatic cancers.”

Essential but sparse collagen hydroxylysyl post-translational modifications detected by DNP NMR, Chem.Commun., 18 Nov 2018, 54, 12570, Wing Ying Chow, Rui Li, Ieva Goldberga,  David G. Reid, Rakesh Rajan, Jonathan Clark, Hartmut Oschkinat, Melinda J. Duer,Robert Hayward and Catherine M. Shanahan. Funders included the MRC, EPSRC, the SENS Foundation (UK), the DAAD and Leibniz Association (Germany), and the iNEXT scheme of the Horizon 2020 programme (European Commission).

About the image: The image above was created by Barth van Rossum, a freelance scientific illustrator and scientist in structural biology at FMP Berlin.  Dr Van Rossum says he has an intense passion for visualizing science and loves to transform results into visual storytelling.