BOSTON Scientists studying cellular division have longed for clues to how cancer cells are able to divide so rapidly. Now, studies by Ohio University biochemists are offering several new pieces needed to solve that mystery.
In work presented Feb. 20 at the Biophysical Society annual meeting in Boston, scientists detail how key parts of a biological "motor" essential to the health of cells in all living creatures work together to transport materials during cell division and in other cellular processes. Understanding the design of this motor could help researchers stop its activity when cell division goes haywire, as it does with cancer.
Every cell contains an assembly of proteins that acts like a motor on a one-way train: it quickly and efficiently moves materials such as chromosomes from the edge of the cell to the center. This protein motor, called dynein, is believed to be made up of 12 specialized parts, said Elisar Barbar of Ohio University.
"It is fundamental to the life of the cell. If you remove one piece of the protein the cell will die," said Barbar, an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences and lead researcher on the study, part of which also appears this month in the journal Biochemistry.
Barbar and her colleagues have focused their studies on several of the 12 pieces of dynein, including one known as LC8. Studies of fruit flies suggest that mutations of LC8 can cause sterility, neural defects and even death.
Much like a jigsaw puzzle, each part of the dynein protein must have a specific shape or structure and be in a certain position to lock together, which is crucial to the function of the motor, Barbar said. Her research team has located specific spots where some of the pieces are linked together, and also is examining where the parts of the protein latch onto its cargo chromosomes and other materials to move it across the cell.