Their findings, which will be published in the October 13 online edition of PLoS Genetics, show that RB blocks cells from dividing before they reach a minimum size and could provide new insights into the origins of cancer.
"Being the right size is very important for cells because their physiology changes quite dramatically when the surface-to-volume ratio changes," explains senior author James Umen, Ph.D., an assistant professor and Hearst Endowment Chair in Salk's Plant Biology Laboratory. "The human body is composed of trillions of cells, each of which must coordinate its growth and division in order to maintain size equilibrium," he adds.
This process is very tightly regulated and any given cell type will always stay within a very narrow size range, but the means by which cell size is determined remain mysterious. In proliferating cells, control mechanisms termed checkpoints are thought to prevent cells from dividing until they reach a specific size, but the nature of the checkpoints has proved difficult to dissect.
Understanding how cells balance the opposing processes of growth and division in order to achieve size control is more than just a fascinating intellectual pursuit for cell biologists: loss of size control is a hallmark of cancer cells, which exhibit severe defects in regulating growth and division.
"In mammalian cells it is very hard to separate size control from cell cycle control because it is very easy to mess up cell size as an indirect consequence of manipulating cell cycle rates," says Umen.
The tiny single-celled alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii provided a model organism to study the link between cell size and growth. In nature, the organism is found in fresh and brackish water and in all kinds of soil. Its close relatives have adapted to the harsh conditions found in underwater thermal vents and even to life under the Antarctic ice shelf. In the lab, C. reinhardtii has been used to investigate agricultural, energy-related and medical questions.
Chlamydomonas is particularly well suited as an organism to dissect the control mechanisms behind cell size not only because of its simplicity but due to its peculiar cell cycle: during a prolonged growth phase cells enlarge to many times their original size and then suddenly divide several times in rapid succession. Despite this rapid-fire response, cell division is tightly controlled by a sizing mechanism that ensures daughter cells are never too large or too small.
In the course of earlier work, Umen identified an RB homolog encoded by the mat3 gene in C. reinhardtii and later discovered algal counterparts of other players in the RB pathway in humans and mice. To analyze their function in Chlamydomonas, the Salk team isolated cells with mutations in individual members of the RB signaling pathway – and things immediately started to go wrong.
Explains Umen, "Cells with mutations in the C. reinhardtii RB homolog start dividing prematurely, and continue dividing excessively, producing abnormally small daughter cells. Mutations in the algal versions of two key targets of the RB tumor suppressor have exactly the opposite effect of RB mutations, resulting in abnormally large cells that don't divide when they should." These findings demonstrate that once cells reach a critical size, they need those two RB target proteins to divide on schedule.
"The interesting thing for us is that the whole genetic module has been conserved from algae to plants to humans," says Umen. "It's been controlling cell division for well over a billion years. As multicellular organisms evolved, the RB pathway was co-opted to integrate growth factor signals, but its original purpose in single cells was more fundamental: to couple cell size to cell cycle progression," he adds.
Recently, evidence has emerged that animal cells also have size checkpoints whose nature is still unknown. "Our results open up the possibility that the ancient size control function for the RB pathway we discovered in Chlamydomonas may still be there in animal cells, but was integrated into a larger network that also responds to extracellular input from growth factors. It will be an interesting challenge now to dissect out that function for RB in animal cells," he says.
Gina Kirchweger | EurekAlert!
Transport of molecular motors into cilia
28.03.2017 | Aarhus University
Asian dust providing key nutrients for California's giant sequoias
28.03.2017 | University of California - Riverside
The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.
To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
28.03.2017 | Life Sciences
28.03.2017 | Information Technology
28.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy