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UW-Madison scientists find a key to cell division

MADISON - A cellular structure discovered 125 years ago and dismissed by many biologists as "cellular garbage" has been found to play a key role in the process of cytokinesis, or cell division, one of the most ancient and important of all biological phenomena.

The discovery of the function of the dozens of proteins harbored within this structure - which are necessary for normal cell division - by a team of scientists led by a University of Wisconsin-Madison geneticist was announced in today's edition of the journal Science.

The discovery promises a better understanding of the role of cell division in the growth and development of all organisms and, critically, of abnormal cell division, when the key proteins fail. These failures can lead to infertility, birth defects, cancer and neurological problems such as Huntington's and Alzheimer's diseases.

"Going from one cell to two, or cytokinesis, is one of the most fundamental of cellular events," dating to a time when life evolved from single-celled organisms, explains Ahna Skop, an assistant professor of genetics with the UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. "It applies to all species and organisms, and it is fundamental to the growth and development of all life on this planet."

However, just as cell division is the key to life, failures in the process can lead to certain diseases, says Skop.

"Several diseases are caused by cells that don't divide properly, or divide out of control, as in cancer," she says. "In addition, proteins that work during cell division may also work in the neurons in our brain or during wound healing, for example. So understanding how cell division works can help us understand how many other specific types of cells function."

With a new understanding of which proteins affect cell division, medical researchers can potentially develop new drugs to prevent cancer and birth defects, treat fertility and neurological disorders, or aide
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Contact: Ahna Skop
skop@wisc.edu
608-262-1593
University of Wisconsin-Madison
27-May-2004


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