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Checking how cells grow

Research published today in Journal of Biology challenges an assumption about cell growth that underpins modern cellular biology. Ian Conlon and Martin Raff, of University College London, show that mammalian cells do not regulate their size in the way scientists have assumed they do since the 1970s.

Conlon and Raff conducted a series of experiments, using Schwann cells from the sciatic nerve of rats, to establish how mammalian cells control their size and 'decide' when to divide. This processes of cell size, growth and division has been widely studied in yeast for thirty years, and many aspects are the same in the two types of cell. Both yeast and mammalian cells are known to be able to maintain a constant average size as they grow and divide. It has therefore been assumed that the 'checkpoints' yeast cells use to ensure that they divide when they reach the correct size are mirrored by checkpoints in mammalian cells, but that assumption had not been tested experimentally - until now.

Using precise measurements, Conlon and Raff found key differences in the ways yeast and mammalian cells grow. Yeast cells grow exponentially, doubling in size over a fixed time period, but mammalian cells grow in a linear way, getting larger by the same amount each day; this means that the rate at which mammalian cells grow is the same regardless of the cell's size, whereas in yeast big cells grow faster than small ones.

Previous research had shown that when moved to a nutrient-rich environment, yeast cells adjust quickly - within one cycle of growth and division. The average size of the cells increases when there are more nutrients available so, yeast uses cell-size checkpoints to determine how large the cell should be before it divides.

It had been assumed that mammalian cells also use cell-size checkpoints. But Conlon and Raff found that when mammalian cells were moved to a nutrient-rich environme
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Contact: Grace Baynes
press@biomedcentral.com
44-20-7323-2988
BioMed Central
24-Apr-2003


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