Sugar plays vital role in cell division

February 6th, 2010 - 5:24 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Feb 6 (ANI): A novel study led by Johns Hopkins scientists has revealed that sugar plays a vital role in cell division - a finding that would lead to new treatments for a number of diseases, including cancer.

The team reported that it focused efforts on the apparatus that enables a human cell to split into two, a complicated biochemical machine involving hundreds of proteins.

It is believed that the job of turning these proteins on and off - thus determining if, how and when a cell divides - fell to phosphates, chemical compounds containing the element phosphorus, which fasten to and unfasten from proteins in a process called phosphorylation.

In the new study, researchers found another layer of regulation by a process of sugar-based protein modification called O-GlcNAcylation (pronounced O-glick-NAC-alation).

“This sugar-based system seems as influential and ubiquitous a cell-division signalling pathway as its phosphate counterpart and, indeed, even plays a role in regulating phosphorylation itself,” said Dr Chad Slawson, an author of the paper and research associate in the Department of Biological Chemistry, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Suspecting that the sugar known as O-GlcNAc might play a role in cell division, the Hopkins team devised a protein-mapping scheme using new mass spectrometric methods.

Essentially, they applied a combination of chemical modification and enrichment methods, and new fragmentation technology to proteins that comprise the cell division machinery in order to figure out and analyze their molecular makeup, identifying more than 150 sites where the sugar molecule known as O-GlcNAc was attached.

Phosphates were found to be attached at more than 300 sites.

They noticed that when an O-GlcNAc molecule was located near a phosphate site, or at the same site, it prevented the phosphate from attaching. The proteins involved in cell division weren’t phosphorylated and activated until O-GlcNAc detached.

“I think of phosphorylation as a micro-switch that regulates the circuitry of cell division, and O-GlcNAcylation as the safety switch that regulates the microswitches,” added Dr Gerald Hart, the DeLamar Professor and director of biological chemistry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

The study appears in journal Science Signaling. (ANI)

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