How do cells count?

Jan 12, 2009

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. Inês Cunha Ferreira and Mónica 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'.

Mónica 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. Inês 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 Inês Bento.

Source: Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia

Explore further: Study identifies highly efficient new Cas9 for in vivo genome editing

Related Stories

Yet more opportunities for organic semiconductors

9 hours ago

From 'Radio frequency identification' (RFID) tags to OLED displays and photovoltaic cells, organic semiconductors' high potential is widely recognised. A Marie Curie project has set out to bring potential innovation to the ...

Researcher among best in protein modeling contests

7 hours ago

A Purdue University researcher ranks among the best in the world in bioinformatics competitions to predict protein structure, docking and function, making him a triple threat in the world of protein modeling.

Fruit flies crucial to basic research

6 hours ago

The world around us is full of amazing creatures. My favorite is an animal the size of a pinhead, that can fly and land on the ceiling, that stages an elaborate (if not beautiful) courtship ritual, that can ...

Solar Impulse departs Myanmar for China

21 hours ago

Solar Impulse 2 took off from Myanmar's second biggest city of Mandalay early Monday and headed for China's Chongqing, the fifth flight of a landmark journey to circumnavigate the globe powered solely by ...

Recommended for you

Longer DNA fragments reveal rare species diversity

29 minutes ago

A challenge in metagenomics is that the more commonly used sequencing machines generate data in short lengths, while short-read assemblers may not be able to distinguish among multiple occurrences of the ...

Polar bears unlikely to thrive on land-based foods

29 minutes ago

A team of scientists led by the U.S. Geological Survey found that polar bears, increasingly forced on shore due to sea ice loss, may be eating terrestrial foods including berries, birds and eggs, but any ...

The vital question: Why is life the way it is?

1 hour ago

The Vital Question: Why is life the way it is? is a new book by Nick Lane that is due out on April 23rd. His question is not one for a static answer but rather one for a series of ever sharper explanations—explanations that a ...

US gives threatened status to northern long-eared bat

2 hours ago

The federal government said Wednesday that it is listing the northern long-eared bat as threatened, giving new protections to a species that has been nearly wiped out in some areas by the spread of a fungal ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.