he creation of the first complete visual map of the telomerase enzyme, which is known to play a significant role in aging and most cancers, represents a breakthrough that could open up a host of new approaches to fighting disease, the researchers said.
"Everyone in the field wants to know what telomerase looks like, and there it was. I was so excited, I could hardly breathe," said Juli Feigon, a UCLA professor of chemistry and biochemistry and a senior author of the study. "We were the first to see it."
The scientists report the positions of each component of the enzyme relative to one another and the complete organization of the enzyme's active site. In addition, they demonstrate how the different components contribute to the enzyme's activity, uniquely correlating structure with biochemical function.
The research appears April 11 in the print edition of the journal Nature and is available online.
"We combined every single possible method we could get our hands on to solve this structure and used cutting-edge technological advances," said co-first author Jiansen Jiang, a researcher who works with Feigon and the study's co-senior author, Z. Hong Zhou, director of the Electron Imaging Center for Nanomachines at the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA and a professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics. "This breakthrough would not have been possible five years ago."
"We really had to figure out how everything fit together, like a puzzle," said co-first author Edward Miracco, a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellow in Feigon's laboratory. "When we started fitting in the high-resolution structures to the blob that emerged from electron microscopy, we realized that everything was fitting in and made sense with decades of past biochemistry research. The project just blossomed, and the blob became a masterpiece."
The telomerase enzyme is a mixture of components that unite inside our cells to maintain the protective regions at the ends of our chromosomes, which are called telomeres. Telomeres act like the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces, safeguarding important genetic information. But each time a cell divides, these telomeres shorten, like the slow-burning fuse of a time bomb. Eventually, the telomeres erode to a point that is no longer tolerable for cells, triggering the cell death that is a normal part of the aging process.
While most cells have relatively low levels of telomerase, 80 percent to 90 percent of cancer cells have abnormally high telomerase activity. This prevents telomeres from shortening and extends the life of these tumorigenic cells — a significant contributor to cancer progression.
The new discovery creates tremendous potential for pharmaceutical development that takes into account the way a drug and target molecule might interact, given the shape and chemistry of each component. Until now, designing a cancer-fighting drug that targeted telomerase was much like shooting an arrow to hit a bulls-eye while wearing a blindfold. With this complete visual map, the researchers are starting to remove that blindfold.
"Inhibiting telomerase won't hurt most healthy cells but is predicted to slow down the progression of a broad range of cancers," said Miracco. "Our structure can be used to guide targeted drug development to inhibit telomerase, and the model system we used may also be useful to screen candidate drugs for cancer therapy."
The researchers solved the structure of telomerase in Tetrahymena thermophila, the single-celled eukaryotic organism in which scientists first identified telomerase and telomeres, leading to the 2009 Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology. Research on Tetrahymena telomerase in the lab of co-senior author Kathleen Collins, a professor of molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley, laid the genetic and biochemical groundwork for the structure to be solved.
"The success of this project was absolutely dependent on the collaboration among our research groups," said Feigon.
"At every step of this project, there were difficulties," she added. "We had so many technical hurdles to overcome, both in the electron microscopy and the biochemistry. Pretty much every problem we could have, we had, and yet at each stage these hurdles were overcome in an innovative way."
One of the biggest surprises, the researchers said, was the role of the protein p50, which acts as a hinge in Tetrahymena telomerase to allow dynamic movement within the complex; p50 was found to be an essential player in the enzyme's activity and in the recruitment of other proteins to join the complex.
"The beauty of this structure is that it opens up a whole new world of questions for us to answer," Feigon said. "The exact mechanism of how this complex interacts with the telomere is an active area of future research."
"The atmosphere and collaboration at UCLA really amazes me, and that is combined with some of the most advanced facilities around," Zhou said. "We have a highly advanced electron microscopy facility here at UCLA that even researchers without a strong background in electron microscopy can learn how to use and benefit from. This will be really useful as we move forward."
This research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Equal contributions to the publication were made by co-first authors Jiang and Miracco, postdoctoral researchers at UCLA with Zhou and Feigon. Members of Kathleen Collins' UC Berkeley laboratory who contributed to this research included technician Kyungah Hong, postdoctoral researcher Barbara Eckert and former graduate researcher Bosun Min. Other co-authors included Henry Chan and Darian D. Cash, UCLA graduate student researchers in Feigon's laboratory.
UCLA is California's largest university, with an enrollment of more than 40,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The UCLA College of Letters and Science and the university's 11 professional schools feature renowned faculty and offer 337 degree programs and majors. UCLA is a national and international leader in the breadth and quality of its academic, research, health care, cultural, continuing education and athletic programs. Six alumni and six faculty have been awarded the Nobel Prize.
For more news, visit the UCLA Newsroom and follow us on Twitter.
Stuart Wolpert | EurekAlert!
Improving memory with magnets
28.03.2017 | McGill University
Graphene-based neural probes probe brain activity in high resolution
28.03.2017 | Graphene Flagship
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