Aaron DeWard, an MSU cell and molecular biology doctoral candidate, and colleagues are trying to figure out how certain proteins trigger cell movement and division and how cancer hijacks the system to create genomic instability.
The researchers studied proteins called formins that help determine the shape of a cell during division and movement.
They identified a new mechanism for regulation of formins during cell division.
"One of the cool things about these proteins is that they're tightly regulated - they will only do their jobs when they're told to do so," DeWard said, describing formins as the workers that put together the pieces that shape a cell.
"A lot of work has been done on how to get these proteins to work, but not when to stop working.
"We identified the way in which these proteins get flagged for destruction. This mechanism is pretty common for a lot of proteins, but had never been shown for this family of proteins before, and no one really knew how to shut them off completely," he added.
"Aaron's observation gives us a handle on the molecular machinery controlling cell division," said VARI senior scientific investigator Art Alberts.
"Our goal now is to exploit this information in the development of strategies to specifically stop the process of uncontrolled cell division that characterizes cancer," he added.
The study is published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.