The results of a study led by Syracuse University biologist Michael Cosgrove (pictured), assistant professor in The College of Arts and Sciences, describe the discovery of a second molecular switch within the mixed lineage leukemia (MLL) protein complex that the researchers believe could be exploited to prevent the overproduction of abnormal cells that are found in several types of cancer, including leukemia. Anamika Patel, a postdoctoral researcher in Cosgrove’s lab, did much of the experimental work for the paper.
During the course of their research to better understand MLL, a protein switch that helps regulate the formation of white blood cells, members of Cosgrove’s research group discovered a new molecular switch within the MLL complex, which they labeled W-RAD.
“We thought that MLL was the only switching mechanism present in this protein complex,” Cosgrove says. “However, we discovered the complex is really two switches.”
In normal cells, MLL combines with four proteins that comprise the W-RAD group to create a molecular switch that controls DNA packaging events required to form white blood cells. When the MLL switch is broken, white blood cells do not mature properly, resulting in a dangerous proliferation of abnormal cells.
Similarly, the proteins that form the W-RAD complex are overproduced in several types of cancer cells, but until now scientists did not know the function of these proteins. Cosgrove’s group discovered that the W-RAD proteins form a new kind of switch—one that has never been seen before.
“The W-RAD switching mechanism signals the cell to create multiple copies of cancer cells,” Cosgrove says. “If we can find a way to turn off this switch, we might be able to slow or stop the production of abnormal cells and convert them to normal cells.”
Illustration: Syracuse University.
Syracuse University News Release (09/03/09)
Science Daily (09/04/09)
Medical News Today (09/07/09)
Abstract (Journal of Biological Chemistry; 284, 24242-24256 (09/04/09))