Discovery of cell’s water gate may pave way for better cancer drugs

June 18th, 2009 - 5:08 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, June 18 (ANI): In a breakthrough study that may lead to new cancer drugs, researchers at the University of Gothenburg have found the gate that regulates the flow of water into and out of yeast cells.

Writing about their work in the journal PLoS Biology, the researchers say that the significance of their study lies in the fact that the flow of water into and out of cells may play a crucial role in several types of cancer.

They say that their finding raises hopes of developing a drug that inhibits the spread and growth of tumours.

According to the researchers, special proteins called “aquaporins” regulate the flow of water into and out of yeast cells to maintain their forms and sizes.

The research group say that aquaporins are found in most organisms, and are believed to be involved in several diseases, including cancer.

They further say that experiments on mice have shown that inhibiting the function of aquaporins can dramatically reduce the spread and growth of tumours, something that makes it imperative that scientists increase their knowledge of these proteins.

Karin Lindkvist of the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology and Richard Neutze of the Department of Chemistry, University of Gothenburg, have achieved a minor breakthrough by determining the three-dimensional structure of the yeast aquaporin.

The researchers used X-ray crystallography for the purpose.

They claim that this is the highest resolution structure that has been determined for a membrane protein.

The unique high resolution has enabled the scientists to answer one of the unsolved mysteries of biology. The aquaporins in yeast have long “tails”, known as amino-terminal extensions. The function of these tails has, until now, been unknown.

“Our study shows that the amino-terminal extensions in yeast act as a gate that can be opened and closed depending on how much water the cell must release or absorb. Computer simulations and biological experiments suggest that the channel is regulated with a combination of mechanical regulation and phosphorylation”, says Karin Lindkvist.Similar to human

Given that yeast cells are similar to human cells in many respects, the researchers believe that their study may have applications in cancer research and other fields.

“The structure of the yeast aquaporin that we have determined can be used to create inhibitors for human aquaporins, and this may in the long term lead to drugs that slow the growth of a cancer tumour,” says Karin Lindkvist. (ANI)

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