Newly discovered proteins could play role in destroying cancer cells

U.K. researchers have discovered what role a newly identified team of proteins play in the process of cell division, and they say that harnessing these proteins could provide a new way to kill cancerous cells.

A team at the University of Warwick, along with a lab at the University of Leicester, has found that the TACC3-ch-TOG-clathrin proteins help form microtubule bridges that stabilize the kinetochore fibres, also known as K-fibres, used in mitosis. When a cell divides, it produces a mitotic spindle, which has the job of dividing chromosomes equally between the two new cells. When the mitotic spindle malfunctions, cells can end up with either too few or too many chromosomes and run the risk of becoming cancerous. Consequently, in cancer cells, the level of TACC3-ch-TOG-clathrin proteins is either too low or too high.

"The microtubule interaction of TACC3-ch-TOG-clathrin is controlled by Aurora A kinase, which is already an important target for drug development. Alisertib and related compounds inhibit this enzyme and this causes many changes in the cell, one of which is that the TACC3-ch-TOG-clathrin complex falls apart. We're interested in finding other ways of changing the complex to alter k-fiber stability in cancer cells," said Steven Royle, associate professor in biomedical cell biology of Warwick Medical School, explained to FierceBiotechResearch.

Researchers found that by removing the TACC3 protein, the clathrin could no longer bind to the microtubules. This weakened the mitotic spindle and caused cells to die. Because adult cells are no longer dividing, the researchers think that removing this protein team could provide a way to shut down mitosis in the cells that are multiplying and halt the spread of cancerous cells.

Royle said this method isn't yet capable of being able to target and kill only cancerous cells, and the research is still far from drug development. But the findings could help scientists understand how this team of proteins could eventually be used in the clinic.

- read the press release
- here's the study abstract