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Enlightening cancer cells
Date:7/1/2014

This news release is available in German.

Harald Janovjak, Assistant Professor at IST Austria, together with Michael Grusch, Associate Professor at the Institute of Cancer Research of the Medical University of Vienna, "remote-controlled" the behaviour of cancer cells with light, as reported this week in EMBO Journal (DOI: 10.15252/embj.201387695). This work is the first application of the new field of optogenetics to cancer research.

To understand the dynamics of cellular signaling, researchers need to activate and inactivate membrane receptor proteins, which serve as relays between a cell's outside and inside world. Ideally, this activation occurs on short timescales (seconds to minutes) and in targeted locations (micrometers to millimeters). However, such a high level of precision in activation cannot be achieved with current pharmacological and genetic methods. Optogenetics uses light to control cell activity, and has the advantage that light can be applied and removed precisely both in space and time. Janovjak, Grusch and colleagues re-engineered receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs), essential cell surface receptors that sense growth factors and hormones, to be under the control of light.

When a signaling molecule binds to RTKs at the cell surface, two receptors bind to each other in a process called dimerization. This process activates signaling in the cell. Janovjak, Grusch and colleagues linked those parts of mammalian RTKs that activate cell signaling to a light-oxygen-voltage-sensing domain, a reversible light sensor that they identified in a yellow-green alga. In the engineered receptors, the dimerization step and subsequently cell signaling can now be turned on and off by light as the algal proteins sense light and bind to each other. In cancer
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Contact: Oliver Lehmann
oliver.lehmann@ist.ac.at
43-067-640-12562
Institute of Science and Technology Austria
Source:Eurekalert  

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