A team from the UK comprised of members of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, have produced the world's first detailed images of the anaphase-promoting complex (APC/C).
Dr. David Barford, who has held positions at both institutions, led the study and says that the results are satisfying:
"It's very rewarding to finally tie down the detailed structure of this important protein, which is both one of the most important and most complicated found in all of nature. We hope our discovery will open up whole new avenues of research that increase our understanding of the process of mitosis, and ultimately lead to the discovery of new cancer drugs."
Integral to cell division
The APC/C is important as it is involved with a range of vital tasks within the process of cell division, mitosis. During mitosis, a cell duplicates itself, pulling apart its chromosomes into two separate daughter cells. Mitosis occurs in animals and plants alike.
Thousands of copies of cancer cells are created during cell division. New research into the APC/C may eventually put a stop to this.
It is during cell division that cancer rears its ugly head, hijacking the process in order to make hundreds of copies of harmful cancer cells. By uncovering the full structure of a vital component of this process, researchers may be able to discover new effective treatments for cancer.
Published in Nature and funded by the Cancer Research UK charity, the research follows on from the team's previous work in which they had been able to show a globular structure for the APC/C, but not its important secondary structure - the set of building blocks that come together to form every protein.
The researchers used a combination of electron microscopy and imaging software to examine reconstituted human APC/C at a resolution of less than a billionth of a meter, a far higher resolution than their previous study.
This resolution was high enough that the researchers were able to visualize the secondary structure. The overall architecture of the APC/C was defined within its 20 subunits, where alpha-helix rods and folded beta-sheet constructions were found by the researchers.
Interim Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research Prof. Paul Workman says that these insights illustrate the critical role that fundamental cell biology plays in cancer research:
"The new study is a major step forward in our understanding of cell division. When the process goes awry it is a critical difference that separates cancer cells from their healthy counterparts. Understanding exactly how cancer cells divide inappropriately is crucial to the discovery of innovative cancer treatments to improve outcomes for cancer patients."
Developing future treatments
Every subunit of the APC/C bonds and meshes with other units during different points of the cell cycle. This bonding allows the APC/C to control several mitotic processes, such as the initiation of DNA copying, the separation of chromosomes and cytokinesis, the splitting of one cell into two.
New cancer drugs that could be developed in light of this research would target binding sites, disrupting these processes to hopefully prevent cancer cells from dividing or even kill them completely.
Dr. Kat Arney, Science Information Manager at Cancer Research UK, says that "revealing the intricate details of biological shapes is a hugely important step toward identifying targets for future cancer drugs." The new research has certainly laid the APC/C bare, and this could prove to be a vital milestone in the journey toward a cure for cancer.
Last week, Medical News Today reported on a study that discovered how cholesterol influences cancerous cell division.