Cell division study opens new leads against hard-to-treat cancers

A protein that controls cell division also has a key role in switching genes on and off, scientists have found, in a discovery which could reinvent cancer treatment.

The protein phosphatase, Repo-Man is one of a clutch of key proteins in cell division, an essential process that goes into overdrive in cancer.

Now researchers at Brunel University London have found Repo-Man is also crucial in controlling mechanisms that switch genes on or off after cells divide.

The study, in Nature Communications, is the first to flag up Repo-Man as an epigenetic regulator.

“This is another component of the epigenetic landscape that people have never considered,” said Brunel’s Dr Paola Vagnarelli.

It may open fresh lines of attack on aggressive hard-to-treat cancers such as Triple Negative Breast Cancer, or Melanoma said Dr Vagnarelli.

“Just last year we unveiled the structure of Repo-Man, but nobody knew before how this particular enzyme was involved in gene regulation. Now we know the biology, how and why it is important, how it functions as well as its structure, therefore we can target different areas of its activity. This opens up many more doors for cancer treatment.”

“The study also tells us that we can interfere with Repo-Man’s ability to bind to the DNA, which could help us block its function,” said Dr Vagnarelli. “It’s a big thing for this field, now we need more investment to pursue more work in this direction.

Article: Repo-Man/PP1 regulates heterochromatin formation in interphase, Dr Paola Vagnarelli, Nature Communications, doi: 10.1038/NCOMMS14048, published 16 January 2017.

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