JUPITER, FL, December 22, 2010 A scientist from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute has discovered a molecular switch that controls the synthesis of ribosomes. Ribosomes are the large machineries inside all living cells that produce proteins, the basic working units of any cell. These new findings offer a novel target for potential treatments for a range of diseases, including cancer.
The study is published in the December 24, 2010 edition of the Journal of Molecular Biology.
The study identified the molecular switch, essentially formed by a small sequence of RNA, that controls a critical part of ribosome synthesis to allow for strict, albeit temporary, regulation of the process.
"These kinds of switches in RNA are thought to be slow acting," said Katrin Karbstein, an assistant professor in the Department of Cancer Biology at Scripps Florida who helped lead the study. "That suggests a point where we might intervene to modify the process then you could potentially shut down the pathway, because if you don't produce ribosomes, you cannot make proteins. Thus, cells can't grow. That would be a desirable outcome in cancer, for example."
This slowness may be there precisely so these regulatory points can be introduced for cells to downregulate growth when nutrition is scarce.
"Perhaps, nature has found a way to exploit RNA's Achilles' heel its propensity to form alternative structures that can lead to protein misfolding, which, in turn, can cause diseases ranging from Alzheimer's to diabetes," Karbstein said. "Nature might be using this to stall important biological processes and allow for quality control and regulation."
The synthesis of proteins involves ribosomes, large macromolecular machines required for cell growth in all organisms. Ribosomes read the genetic code carried by messenger RNA and then catalyze or translate that RNA code into proteins within cells, assembling them fr
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Scripps Research Institute