In a discovery that has relevance in a variety of fields, including human health, UC Riverside Assistant Professor of Biochemistry Frank Sauer and colleagues at UC Riverside, in Germany, and in Wisconsin, have found a new way to identify when a living cell begins to grow.
“We have found a new marker, established by the cell, to detect the production of an essential protein that indicates cell growth,” said Sauer, about a research paper published last month in the prestigious journal, Science.
The paper, entitled, “TAF1 activates transcription by phosphorylation of serine 33 in histone H2B” is the result of four years of work. Co-authors include researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Heidelberg University.
Medical researchers could use the newly discovered marker as a diagnostic tool to monitor the emergence of cancer. The unwanted ‘awakening’ of cells from the dormant phase can result in uncontrolled cell growth that is loosely referred to as cancer. “We have developed a tool (antibody) that detects the novel marker and identifies growing cells,” Sauer said.
The research paper described the identification of the enzyme that controls cell growth by generating the novel “cell growth” marker. “You can activate the enzyme, or you can deactivate it,” Sauer said. “This may be used to create substances that can take a cell from the dormant stage to the active stage, or the other way around. This may help create substances that can stop cancerous cell growth.”
All higher organisms derive from a single cell, the fertilized egg that divides to generate different cell types, tissues and organs. Once the task has been completed, cells stop dividing and enter a dormant phase of the cell cycle. So any advance in recognizing the complex interplay of proteins that control and regulate the cell cycle has relevance for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
Sauer said that he and his colleagues have celebrated the result of a long research effort. “We had a very nice bottle of Champagne. Yes, this is a very important step towards our goal to understand the mechanisms that control cell growth.”
Sauer arrived at UC Riverside 18 months ago from Heidelberg (Germany). Between 1994 and 1997 he was a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley.