Cellular dumping site is not garbage after all

Cells can reuse the chemical messengers that carry genetic information to the machinery that makes proteins. Sometimes cells shuttle the messengers to storage and later reactivate them to make proteins, according to new research.

Learning how cells regulate the newly discovered "mRNA cycle" may provide insights into how the cellular machinery runs amok in diseases like cancer.

Scientists had previously thought the messenger molecules, known as mRNAs, were manufactured, used, decommissioned and then sent on a one-way journey to the garbage dump.

These cellular garbage dumps, called P-bodies, turn out to be storage depots, not landfills. After use, mRNA molecules are temporarily deactivated for storage purposes. The cell can then either destroy the mRNA or recondition pre-used mRNA so it can be put back into service if needed.

P-bodies are also involved in determining whether specific mRNAs are used to make proteins, a process called translation.

"We were surprised to find that the P-bodies were involved in regulating translation," said research team leader Roy Parker, a Regents' Professor of molecular and cellular biology at The University of Arizona in Tucson and an Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. In 2003, his lab was the first to name and describe a function for P-bodies.

Parker said of the new finding, "It suggests P-bodies have a much broader role in controlling the activities of the cell than we realized."

Parker and first author Jeff Coller report P-bodies' role in the control of translation in the Sept. 23 issue of the journal Cell. Coller, who did the research while at UA as a postdoctoral fellow with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, is now an assistant professor in the Center for RNA Molecular Biology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

The Parker lab's findings about P-bodies serving as storage depots was released online Sept. 1, 2005 and will be pu

Contact: Mari N. Jensen
University of Arizona

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