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Molecule-sized bait used by UCLA research team to fish for new drug targets

UCLA researchers and their collaborators have developed a method that could open the door for investigations into the function of half of all proteins in the human body.

The research team has demonstrated nanoscale control over molecules, allowing for the precise study of interactions between proteins and small molecules. Their new technique, in which molecules are used as bait to capture and study large biomolecules, could lead to a new generation of psychiatric medications.

In a paper published last month in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience, an interdisciplinary team of researchers from UCLA and the Pennsylvania State University (PSU) report on their investigation of the interactions between large biomolecules, which include DNA and proteins, and small molecules, which include hormones and neurotransmitters such as serotonin.

The research team, led by Anne Andrews, professor of psychiatry and a researcher at both the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA and UCLA's California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI), is studying these interactions to identify a new generation of targets, or key molecules that correspond to specific diseases or conditions.

Interactions between large biomolecules and small molecules are ubiquitous in nature; they are the method for communication within and between cells. But these interactions have proven difficult to isolate in a laboratory setting. Increased understanding of these interactions is vital for the development of new medications for psychiatric disorders, the researchers say.

"Currently, little is known about which targets apply to specific diseases," Andrews said. "Pharmaceutical companies are very good at designing medications once they have a target to go after; my group is working on providing them with targets."

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