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: Culprit identified in decline of endangered Missouri River pallid sturgeon

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New trick found for how cells stay organized

Jan 16, 2015

Organization is key to an efficient workplace, and cells are no exception to this rule. New evidence from Johns Hopkins researchers suggests that, in addition to membranes, cells have another way to keep ...

Picture this—biosecurity seen from the inside

Jan 16, 2015

When plants come under attack internal alarm bells ring and their defence mechanisms swing into action - and it happens in the space of just a few minutes. Now, for the first time, plant scientists - including ...

Bacteria coordinate activities with chemical 'language'

Jan 15, 2015

Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich researchers have discovered a previously unknown chemical language used by many bacterial species to coordinate their activities, and show in a model organism that such ...

Damaged DNA amplified

Jan 15, 2015

For the first time, researchers have succeeded in amplifying genes altered by activities such as smoking—with changes that can lead to lung cancer. As the amplified genes retain the altered information, ...

Recommended for you

The elephant poaching business in numbers

3 hours ago

From the pittance paid to local poachers to a multi-billion dollar industry, here are some of the key numbers related to Africa's endangered elephants:

Kalbarri abalone gets helping hand

Jan 23, 2015

Department of Fisheries staff and Kalbarri fishermen have released 24,000 Roe's abalone (Haliotis roei) onto reef platforms along the cliffs north of Kalbarri, to restock a population decimated by the marine ...

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.