Fruit flies provide new knowledge about uninhibited cell growth

April 27, 2012

In a new study, scientists at the University of Copenhagen show that a specific type of carbohydrate plays an important role in the intercellular signalling that controls the growth and development of the nervous system. In particular, defects in that carbohydrate may result in the uninhibited cell growth that characterizes the genetic disease neurofibromatosis and certain types of cancer. The results have just been published in the well-reputed journal PNAS.

Scientists from The Faculty of and Medical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen have put a special type of fruit fly under the microscope. The new research results turn the spotlight on a certain group of carbohydrates – the so-called glycolipids – and their influence on the cells' complicated communication system. In the long term, this model study can shine new light on the disease for the benefit of patients the world over. Egghead to the right: changes in cellular growth. Foto: Klaus Qvortrup

"The most important thing about our discovery right now is that we document a new function for carbohydrates in the communication between . We also show how disturbances in the signalling pathways cause changes in cellular growth. This is knowledge that cancer researchers can develop," says Ole Kjærulff, doctor and associate professor at the Department of Neuroscience and Pharmacology, who has conducted the study together with Dr. Katja Dahlgaard, and Hans Wandall, associate professor at the Copenhagen Center for Glycomics.

Sugar chains control cell growth

Glycolipids are compounds consisting of fats linked to long chains of sugar molecules. They are located in the cell membrane, where they serve various functions, such as protecting the cell or making it recognizable to the immune system.

"In the fruit fly model, if we prevent the sugar chains from lengthening, we can show that plays an important role in controlling the growth of normal cells. When the sugar chains are shortened, the tissue grows dramatically on account of increased cell division. In particular, it appears that the nervous system's support cells – the glia cells – are influenced," explains Hans Wandall, associate professor.

Neurofibromatosis can cause deformity

The new results also influence our understanding of neurofibromatosis. This is a heritable disorder that results in unsightly tumours – so-called neurofibromas – in the nerves and skin. The disease affects approximately 20 people out of 100,000 and varies from mild to severe cases with decided deformities. The condition also affects the bones and often causes learning problems:

"When you get closer to an understanding of the mechanisms that result in a certain disease, naturally it is easier to influence the disease process in the form of drug development in the longer term. Neurofibromatosis is not a terminal disease, but it very much affects the life quality of the people who have it because the symptoms are so noticeable," explains Ole Kjærulff. Hans Wandall adds that the disease is also associated with certain , particularly in the brain.

Explore further: Identification of new genes shows a complex path to cell death

Related Stories

Tumor mechanism identified

February 22, 2010

Researchers from the Peninsula Medical School in Plymouth (UK), the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, Cornell University in New York, Weil Medical College in New York and the Center for Neural Tumour Research ...

'REST' is crucial for the timing of brain development

March 2, 2012

Researchers have just shown that the molecule REST acts as an adapter in stem cells, and hope that future studies of REST will contribute to the development of new types of treatments for diseases such as cancer.

Recommended for you

Basic research fuels advanced discovery

August 26, 2016

Clinical trials and translational medicine have certainly given people hope and rapid pathways to cures for some of mankind's most troublesome diseases, but now is not the time to overlook the power of basic research, says ...

New method creates endless supply of kidney precursor cells

August 25, 2016

Salk Institute scientists have discovered the holy grail of endless youthfulness—at least when it comes to one type of human kidney precursor cell. Previous attempts to maintain cultures of the so-called nephron progenitor ...

New avenue for understanding cause of common diseases

August 25, 2016

A ground-breaking Auckland study could lead to discoveries about many common diseases such as diabetes, cancer and dementia. The new finding could also illuminate the broader role of the enigmatic mitochondria in human development.

Strict diet combats rare progeria aging disorders

August 25, 2016

Mice with a severe aging disease live three times longer if they eat thirty percent less. Moreover, they age much healthier than mice that eat as much as they want. These are findings of a joint study being published today ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.