Led by bioengineering professor Sua Myong, the research group’s findings are published in the journal Structure.
Myong’s group focused on understanding the proteins that protect and regulate telomeres, segments of repeating DNA units that cap the ends of chromosomes. Telomeres protect the important gene-coding sections of DNA from loss or damage, the genetic equivalent of aglets – the covering at the tips of shoelaces that keep the ends of the laces from unraveling or fraying.
Telomeres play an important role in cell aging and death, since each time a cell divides, a little bit is lost from the end of the telomere. Thus, cell biologists postulate that telomere length can determine the lifespan of a cell. Cancer cells, however, have a way to get around this limitation: An enzyme called telomerase that adds length to telomeres is highly active in cancer cells. This allows cancer cells to divide in perpetuity, running amok through tissues and systems.
“Cancer researchers want to get a hold of this problem, control this indefinite lengthening of the telomeres,” said Myong, who also is affiliated with the Institute for Genomic Biology at the U. of I. “A lot of the anti-cancer drugs are targeted directly to these telomeres so that they can inhibit telomerase activity. The proteins we study regulate the activity of telomerase.”
Using a technique developed at Illinois that allows researchers to watch single molecules interact in real time, Myong’s group determined how two proteins called POT-1 and TTP-1 bind to the telomere. POT-1 protects the fragile telomere ends from being attacked by other regulatory proteins that might mistake the end for a broken or damaged area of DNA. When POT-1 and TTP-1 work together in a complex, they promote telomerase activity, an interesting target for cancer researchers.
The group found that on its own, POT-1 binds to the folded-up telomere in distinct steps at particular points in the telomere’s DNA sequence, unfolding the telomere in a stepwise manner. However, the POT-1/TTP-1 complex surprised the researchers by binding, then freely sliding back and forth along the telomere end.
“Instead of stepwise binding, what we saw was a mobile protein complex, a dynamic sliding motion,” Myong said. “Somehow it was as if the static binding activity of POT-1 is completely lost – the protein complex just slid back and forth. We were able to reproduce the data and confirm it with many different tail lengths of the telomeric DNA and we know now that the contact between POT-1 and the telomere is somehow altered when the partner protein comes and binds.”
Next, the researchers will add telomerase and see how the sliding activity of the POT-1/TTP-1 complex affects telomerase activity. Myong postulates that the sliding may promote telomerase activity – and thus telomere lengthening – by making the end of the telomere accessible for the telomerase enzyme to bind.
“We are excited about the possibility that this kind of mobility can increase the telomerase extension activity,” Myong said. “It’s somehow engaging the enzyme so that it can stay bound to the DNA longer. So it must involve a direct interaction.”
Ultimately, understanding the POT-1/TTP-1 complex gives drug developers a new target for anti-cancer drugs, and the assay Myong’s group used to monitor the complex could offer a venue for evaluating telomere-targeting drugs.
“We want to extend our a basic science knowledge in telomere biology into causes of cancer and we hope that our assay can be useful for telomere-targeted drug screening,” Myong said.
The American Cancer Society and the Human Frontier Science Research Program supported this work.
Liz Ahlberg | EurekAlert!
Nerves control the body’s bacterial community
26.09.2017 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
Ageless ears? Elderly barn owls do not become hard of hearing
26.09.2017 | Carl von Ossietzky-Universität Oldenburg
Controlling electronic current is essential to modern electronics, as data and signals are transferred by streams of electrons which are controlled at high speed. Demands on transmission speeds are also increasing as technology develops. Scientists from the Chair of Laser Physics and the Chair of Applied Physics at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have succeeded in switching on a current with a desired direction in graphene using a single laser pulse within a femtosecond ¬¬ – a femtosecond corresponds to the millionth part of a billionth of a second. This is more than a thousand times faster compared to the most efficient transistors today.
Graphene is up to the job
At the productronica trade fair in Munich this November, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be presenting Laser-Based Tape-Automated Bonding, LaserTAB for short. The experts from Aachen will be demonstrating how new battery cells and power electronics can be micro-welded more efficiently and precisely than ever before thanks to new optics and robot support.
Fraunhofer ILT from Aachen relies on a clever combination of robotics and a laser scanner with new optics as well as process monitoring, which it has developed...
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
26.09.2017 | Life Sciences
26.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
26.09.2017 | Information Technology