Scientists have learned how a gene widely known for precisely positioning and sculpting various organs also controls the speed of cell division, a finding that could be useful for understanding the explosive growth of cancer cells or why increasing numbers of children are being born with genital and urinary tract malformations.
Writing today (Tuesday, June 1) in Nature Communications, researchers at the University of Florida say a gene memorably named Sonic hedgehog controls genital development by regulating a process known as the cell cycle -- a biological event that regulates when, and how fast, cells divide to form hearts, brains, limbs and all the other complex structures needed to build an individual.
The findings in mice provide insight into the molecular mechanisms that underlie growth of urinary and reproductive organs in both sexes. Abnormalities of the genitalia and urinary tract are among the most common birth defects, according to the March of Dimes. Similarly, the ability of Sonic hedgehog to alter the time it takes to complete the cell cycle might also influence tumor growth in a wide range of cancers, including the most common form of skin cancer.
"The role of Sonic hedgehog during embryonic development is to set up the positional addresses of cells in everything from limbs to the spinal cord, telling cells where they are located and what they will become -- a process known as patterning," said senior author Martin Cohn, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute early career scientist and a member of the UF Genetics Institute and the College of Medicine. "We've shown Sonic hedgehog also controls organ growth by determining how long a cell spends preparing to replicate its DNA. The surprise is to find out how much patterning and growth are intertwined. An embryo has only a fixed amount of time to grow. Once we discovered that inactivation of Sonic hedgehog slowed down the cell cycle, it explained the big differences in gr
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University of Florida