Unexpected discovery highlights new role for cell death regulator

An unexpected discovery of how the body controls cell death has revealed a potential new therapeutic target.

A research team based at Cardiff University's School of Biosciences has already revealed the mechanism by which high can induce pancreatitis and its progression to pancreatic cancer. Now a new study, published in , reveals a hitherto unknown interaction between two well known molecules, which has important implications for our understanding of inflammation and cancer in the pancreas as well as other organs.

The Cardiff team studied the protein Bcl-2, already known to be capable of inhibiting programmed cell death in all tissue types in the body. Cell death is vital to normal development, and under certain circumstances this protein can therefore promote tumour growth and cancer.

The Cardiff study of showed that removal of the Bcl-2 protein activated a molecule in the cell membrane which pumps calcium out of the cells. As the team expected, a lower level of Bcl-2 increased the level of programmed cell death. But they also found that the lack of Bcl-2 markedly protected against another much more dangerous form of cell death - necrosis, in which cells swell and burst, releasing their contents and causing severe inflammation. The team found the increased protection against necrosis was directly linked to increased activity of the calcium pump.

The team, led by Dr. Oleg Gerasimenko and MRC Professor Ole Petersen, believes that blocking the Bcl-2 effect on the calcium pump, so that the pump becomes more active, could be a beneficial therapy against necrosis and the subsequent dangerous inflammation. This is important because necrosis of the enzyme-secreting , often the result of high , markedly increases the risk of pancreatic cancer, the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in both Europe and the US with a 5-year survival rate of only 4 per cent.

Professor Petersen, also Director of Cardiff's School of Biosciences, said: "The new findings come from studies of pancreatic cells. We have discovered an entirely unexpected link between two well known molecules and this link is a potentially attractive target for treatment of pancreatitis and the dangerous progression of pancreatitis to pancreatic cancer. However, our findings are also likely to be of more general importance. The inhibitor of , Bcl-2, and the calcium pump in the cell membrane are found in every type of cell in our body. The interaction between the two could well be important in deciding cell fates in many different organs and also the development of inflammation and different cancer types."

Related Stories

Protein could be used to treat alcohol effects on pancreas

Mar 22, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- A Medical Research Council (MRC) study has discovered that a protein provides protection against the effects of alcohol in the pancreas. The findings could lead to the development of new treatments to reduce ...

Dendritic cells protect against acute pancreatitis

Nov 22, 2011

NYU Langone Medical Center researchers have discovered the novel protective role dendritic cells play in the pancreas. The new study, published in the November issue of journal Gastroenterology, shows dendritic cells can sa ...

Cell survival protein research reveals surprise structure

Oct 14, 2011

Researchers from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute have found a structural surprise in a type of protein that encourages cell survival, raising interesting questions about how the proteins function to influence ...

Recommended for you

Diet affects men's and women's gut microbes differently

6 hours ago

The microbes living in the guts of males and females react differently to diet, even when the diets are identical, according to a study by scientists from The University of Texas at Austin and six other institutions published ...

Researchers explore what happens when heart cells fail

7 hours ago

Through a grant from the United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation, Biomedical Engineering Associate Professor Naomi Chesler will embark upon a new collaborative research project to better understand ...

Stem cells from nerves form teeth

9 hours ago

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have discovered that stem cells inside the soft tissues of the tooth come from an unexpected source, namely nerves. These findings are now being published in the journal Nature and co ...

User comments