Scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have found out a protein that helps cells commit suicide, offering a potentially new way to cure cancer.
Revealing their discovery in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the researchers said that it could lead to drugs for combating cancer and other diseases characterized by overproduction of cells.
Late Dr. Dennis Shields, a professor in Einstein's Department of Developmental and Molecular Biology for 30 years who died unexpectedly in December, was the one who had initiated the current study.
The programmed suicide among cells is scientifically known as apoptosis. Cancer cells often become immortal and dangerous by developing the ability to suppress apoptosis.
While apoptosis had been thought to be directed solely by the nucleus and mitochondria of cells for about a decade, Dr. Shields' laboratory showed it for the first time that a cellular organelle called the Golgi apparatus also plays a role in apoptosis.
The Einstein researchers have revealed that the Golgi package proteins and other substances made by cells, and direct them to their destination within the cell.
According to them, a protein called p115 is vital for maintaining the structure of the Golgi.
A past study led by Dr. Shields had shown that the Golgi's p115 protein splits into two pieces early in apoptosis, and that the smaller of the protein fragments-205 amino acids in length-helps to maintain the cell-suicide process.
The current study has led to the identification of the smallest region of this p115 protein fragment that is required for apoptosis: a peptide of just 26 amino acids in length that exerts its apoptotic action by traveling to the nucleus.
"Dennis Shields was one of our most outstanding scientists. His efforts to uncover fundamental mechanisms governing how cells work has led to new ways of thinking about apoptosis, in particular, how the Golgi regulates this process," says Dr. E. Richard Stanley, chairman of developmental and molecular biology at Einstein.