CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (August 20, 2009) The tail ends of cellular protein templates, regions often thought relatively inconsequential, may actually play a role in preventing normal cells from becoming cancerous.
The finding from scientists at Whitehead Institute for Biomedical research is reported in the August 20 edition of Cell.
Proteins are made from templates that are copied from a cell's DNA. These templates, called messenger RNAs (mRNAs), comprise three sections. The middle section codes for the actual protein, while the beginning and end sections are known as untranslated regions (UTRs) because they do not code for any portion of the protein. Instead, the beginning section gets protein production started, while the tail section, called the 3'UTR, appeared simply to be along for the ride.
"This end of the mRNA is often not considered that important because if you put the beginning and middle of the mRNA into a cell, you get the right protein," says Christine Mayr, first author of the Cell paper and a former postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Whitehead Member David Bartel. "But now we know that this end often has a protein production regulatory program and in some cases can play a role in cancer."
A cell uses proteins in almost all of its processes, from cell division, to transporting essential molecules, to providing the cell's structure. Because the cell's protein production profile is tightly controlled and specific to the cell's type and stage in its life cycle, the over- or under-production of certain proteins can alter normal cellular function. These changes can include uncontrolled cell division and the ability to grow in the absence of a substrateboth defining traits of cancer cells.
When Mayr compared mRNAs produced in normal cells with those in cancerous cells, she noticed that the tail end of the cancer cells' mRNAs were cut short. In some cases, nearly 95% of the 3'UTR was missing.
|Contact: Nicole Giese|
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research