Using an innovative tool that captures heretofore hidden ways that cells are regulated, scientists at Rockefeller University have identified a protein that makes breast cancer cells more likely to metastasize.
What's more, the protein appears to trigger cancer's spread in part by blocking two other proteins that are normally linked to neurodegeneration, a finding that suggests these two disease processes could have unexpected ties.
The study, which appears in the July 10 issue of Nature, points to the possibility of new cancer therapies that target this "master regulator" that helps set metastasis in motion.
"Although the research is in its very early days, if we learn more about how this regulation works, we may in the future be able to generate drugs that prevent this protein from triggering metastatic disease," says Sohail F. Tavazoie, senior author on the study. Tavazoie is Leon Hess Assistant Professor and head of the Vincent Meyer Laboratory of Systems Cancer Biology at Rockefeller.
During the study, Tavazoie and his colleagues used technology previously developed by first author Hani Goodarzi and co-author Saeed Tavazoie, a professor at Columbia University, to measure a new layer of regulation in cancer cells. In order to understand what triggers cells to become malignant, scientists often look at sequences of DNA, searching for genes which are turned on or off in cancerous cells. But in recent years, they've uncovered many new mechanisms that govern cell activity, including some that act on RNA, the genetic material that helps cells make proteins using instructions encoded in DNA. The special strength of Goodarzi and Saeed Tavazoie's tool is that it doesn't look simply at the sequence of RNAit also looks at its shape.
It turns out, the shape of an RNA molecule matters. Specifically, some segments of messenger RNA form hairpin loops, which create sites for key proteins to bind to and regulate that RN
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