New cellular clues to understanding cancer

Abnormal heart rhythms - arrhythmias - are killers. They strike without warning, causing sudden cardiac death, which accounts for about 10 percent of all deaths in the United States. Vanderbilt investigators have discovered a new molecular mechanism associated with arrhythmias. Their findings, reported in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, could lead to novel arrhythmia treatments.

Full Post: Discovery could lead to novel arrhythmia treatments

In the 13th January print edition of the journal Current Biology, Instituto Gubenkian de Ciencia researchers provide insight into an old mystery in cell biology, and offer up new clues to understanding cancer.

In?Cunha Ferreira and M?a Bettencourt Dias, working with researchers at the universities of Cambridge, UK, and Siena, Italy, unravelled the mystery of how cells count the number of centrosomes, the structure that regulates the cell’s skeleton, controls the multiplication of cells, and is often transformed in cancer.

This research addresses an ancient question: how does a cell know how many centrosomes it has? It is equally an important question, since both an excess or absence of centrosomes are associated with disease, from infertility to cancer.

Each cell has, at most, two centrosomes. Whenever a cell divides, each centrosome gives rise to a single daughter centrosome, inherited by one of the daughter cells. Thus, there is strict control on progeny! By using the fruit fly, the IGC researchers identified the molecule that is responsible for this ‘birth control policy’ of the cell - a molecule called Slimb. In the absence of Slimb, each mother centrosome can give rise to several daughters in one go, leading to an excess of centrosomes in the cell.

In recent years, Monica’s group has produced several important findings relating to centrosome control: they identified another molecule, SAK, as the trigger for the formation of centrosomes. When SAK is absent, there are no centrosomes, whereas if SAK is overproduced, the cell has too many centrosomes. These results were published in the prestigious journals Current Biology and Science , in 2005 and 2007. Now, the group has discovered the player in the next level up: Slimb mediates the destruction of SAK, and in so doing, ultimately controls the number of centrosomes in a cell.

Monica explains, ‘We carried out these studies in the fruit fly, but we know that the same mechanism acts in mice and even in humans. Knowing that Slimb is altered in several cancers opens up new avenues of research into the mechanisms underlying the change in the number of centrosomes seen in many tumours’.

M?a first became interested in centrosomes and in SAK when she was an Associate Researcher at Cambridge University, UK, and has pursued this interest at the IGC, where she has been group leader of the Cell Cycle Regulation laboratory since 2006. In?Cunha Ferreira travelled with Monica from Cambridge, and is now in her second year of the in-house PhD programme. Two other PhD students in the lab also contributed to this research, Ana Rodrigues Martins and In?Bento.


Magazine articles describing ways to burn fat, lose weight, etc. are omnipresent in Western culture, but science’s understanding of the way fat is stored in the cells of the human body is rather slimmer. In this week’s issue of PLoS Biology, a new paper by Dr. Mathias Beller, Carole Sztalryd, and colleagues investigates some of

Full Post: Understanding lipid storage

Stem cells are the body’s primal cells, retaining the youthful ability to develop into more specialized types of cells over many cycles of cell division. How do they do it? Scientists at the Carnegie Institution have identified a gene, named scrawny, that appears to be a key factor in keeping a variety of stem cells

Full Post: Gene named scrawny keeps stem cells healthy

Researchers led by Drs. Lillian Maggio-Price and Brian Iritani at The University of Washington found that mice that lack the immune inhibitory molecule Smad3 are acutely sensitive to both bacterially-induced inflammation and cancer. They report these findings in the January 2009 issue of The American Journal of Pathology. Bacteria contribute to the development of certain

Full Post: Inflammation contributes to colon cancer

A colon cancer cell isn’t a lost cause. Vitamin D can tame the rogue cell by adjusting everything from its gene expression to its cytoskeleton. In the Nov. 17 issue of the Journal of Cell Biology, Ordonez-Morán et al. show that one pathway governs the vitamin’s diverse effects. The results help clarify the actions

Full Post: Study helps clarify role of vitamin D in cancer therapy

Biologists have known for decades that cells use tiny molecular motors to move chromosomes, mitochondria, and many other organelles within the cell, but no one has been able to understand what “steers” these engines to their destinations. Now, researchers at the University of Rochester have shed new light on how cells accomplish this feat, and

Full Post: Biologist provides new theory on mechanisms that control molecular motors