PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] -- When cells go about the business of dividing, they can get sidelined. Maybe there aren't enough nutrients. Maybe there aren't the right signals to resume multiplying. Either way, cells go quiet.
What can restart cell division -- the process that drives the development of embryos, the renewal of hair, skin and blood, and the creation of cancer -- is a single transcription factor called GABP, according to new research from The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and Rhode Island Hospital.
The work, published online in Nature Cell Biology, introduces a new pathway that can be manipulated to control cell growth. Since cell growth is a fundamental biological process, the research may shed light on everything from miscarriages to muscular dystrophy. The main application, however, is cancer. Since a key characteristic of cancer cells is unchecked growth, the research identifies potential targets for new treatments.
"As a scientist and a physician, I am tremendously excited," said Alan Rosmarin, M.D., an associate professor in the Department of Medicine and the Department of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry at Brown and director of clinical oncology research for Lifespan, Rhode Island's largest health care system. "This discovery not only adds to our basic understanding of cell division, it could lead to better cancer drugs. And they're needed. Cancer touches everyone."
During the cell cycle, the four-phase process of cell division, there is a period when the biochemical brakes are put on and cells become inactive. Then the process is kick-started and cells move into the so-called S phase, when DNA is duplicated. This is a critical juncture. If genes are missing or broken, these alterations are passed on to the new cell -- and could result in disability or in diseases such as cancer.