Researchers find new piece of cell growth puzzle

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (April 30, 2003) In biology, size matters. Cell growth, the process whereby cells increase in mass, is critical to many life functions and has been implicated in diseases such as cancer and diabetes. Spurred by the discovery of a cellular pathway that helps switch cell growth on and off, new research links growth to a cell's ability to sense nutrients in its environment.

This growth-triggering system, known as the mTOR pathway, is composed of a complex of proteins that respond to nutrient cues. To fill in the pieces of this protein puzzle, researchers are working to identify mTOR's component parts and study how it works.

Scientists at Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research have discovered a protein that helps regulate the mTOR pathway. This protein, called GβL, acts as a bridge stabilizing the interactions between two other proteins central to mTOR function. When GβL is absent or disabled, cells become insensitive to nutrient levels and grow abnormally, a possible cause of disease, say researchers.

The finding, published in this month's issue of Molecular Cell, brings researchers a step closer to understanding how nutrients regulate cell growth and what happens when this system breaks down.

"As we learn more about mTOR at the cellular level, we can begin to understand its function in the regulation of growth throughout the body," said David Sabatini, a researcher at Whitehead and leader of the team that published the study. "This complex has opened up a window onto how nutrient signaling is involved in different mammalian processes and provided a new way to investigate the role nutrients and metabolism play in disease."

The mTOR story began with the serendipitous discovery of rapamycin, a powerful immunosuppresant culled from a random soil sample in the 1970s. Made by bacteria, rapamycin was first used to prevent organ rejection in kidney transplant patients. Although researchers knew that ra

Contact: Kelli Whitlock or Melissa Withers
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research

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