The scientists, using an innovative imaging technique invented at Purdue, have learned that a protein previously believed to be confined to the nucleus of healthy cells actually shuttles between the nucleus and cytoplasm, the region of the cell surrounding the nucleus. Moreover, the protein's shuttling is controlled by the presence of another protein in the nucleus and its attachment to that second protein.
"Our findings may provide a new avenue for the development of innovative treatments for certain cancers and other conditions," said Chang-Deng Hu, an assistant professor in Purdue's Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology and an investigator at the Walther Cancer Institute in Indianapolis.
The experiments were done using a line of "teratocarcinoma" malignant tumor cells from mice called F9, which, when subjected to the right biochemical signals, have the ability to alter their properties and are considered to be "cancer stem cells." The hypothetical cancer-resistance role of cancer stem cells could explain why tumors return after treatment. If stem cells prove to be critical to cancer's resistance to treatment, new medications might be developed to target cancer stem cells while chemotherapy or radiation is administered, Hu said.
Research findings are detailed in a paper appearing this month in the EMBO Journal, published by the European Molecular Biology Organization. The paper was written by postdoctoral research associate Han Liu, laboratory technician Xuehong Deng and graduate student Y. John Shyu, all in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology; Jian Jian Li, an associate professor in the Department of Health Sciences; Elizabeth J. Taparowsky, a professor i