(Credit: Texas A&M AgriLife)

study published May 22 in the journal Nature notes the role of X-ray experiments at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS) in detailing the structure of a grouping of amino acids that are part of an important signaling protein.

The protein, known as STING, plays an important role in activating the immune system.

Banumathi Sankaran, a biophysicist at Berkeley Lab who leads the Collaborative Crystallography program at the ALS, performed X-ray data analysis on crystallized proteins that confirmed how a part of STING helps to bind to a protein-modifying enzyme associated with diseases and some cancers, signaling an immune response.

“Our immune system is like an electrical circuit,” said Pingwei Li, a biochemistry and biophysics professor at Texas A&M University who led the study. The protein component at the center of the study works “like a switch that turns the immune system on … to fight against viral infections or cancer.”

He credited Sankaran for her success in working with the crystal samples. “Obtaining this data was very challenging,” he said. “The superb facilities and service provided by the ALS were very critical for the success of this challenging project.”

Read the full release from Texas A&M University.