Using an elaborate sleuthing system they developed to probe how cells manage their own division, Johns Hopkins scientists have discovered that common but hard-to-see sugar switches are partly in control.
Because these previously unrecognized sugar switches are so abundant and potential targets of manipulation by drugs, the discovery of their role has implications for new treatments for a number of diseases, including cancer, the scientists say.
In the January 12 edition of Science Signaling, the team reported that it focused efforts on the apparatus that enables a human cell to split into two, a complicated biochemical machine involving hundreds of proteins. Conventional wisdom was that the job of turning these proteins on and off thus determining if, how and when a cell divides fell to phosphates, chemical compounds containing the element phosphorus, which fasten to and unfasten from proteins in a process called phosphorylation.
Instead, the Johns Hopkins scientists say, there is another layer of regulation by a process of sugar-based protein modification called O-GlcNAcylation (pronounced O-glick-NAC-alation). "This sugar-based system seems as influential and ubiquitous a cell-division signaling pathway as its phosphate counterpart and, indeed, even plays a role in regulating phosphorylation itself," says Chad Slawson, Ph.D., an author of the paper and research associate in the Department of Biological Chemistry, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Because the sugar molecule has some novel qualities it is small, easily altered, and without an electrical charge it is virtually imperceptible to researchers using standard physical techniques of detection such as mass spectrometry.
Suspecting that the sugar known as O-GlcNAc might play a role in cell division, the Hopkins team devised a protein-mapping scheme using new mass spectrometric methods. Essentially, they applied a combination of
|Contact: Maryalice Yakutchik|
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions