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: 'REST' is crucial for the timing of brain development

Related Stories

'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

Researchers find way to convert bad body fat into good fat

September 19, 2017
There's good fat and bad fat in our bodies. The good fat helps burn calories, while the bad fat hoards calories, contributing to weight gain and obesity. Now, new research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. ...

New model may help science overcome the brain's fortress-like barrier

September 19, 2017
Scientists have helped provide a way to better understand how to enable drugs to enter the brain and how cancer cells make it past the blood brain barrier.

Cell-based therapy success could be boosted by new antioxidant

September 19, 2017
Cell therapies being developed to treat a range of conditions could be improved by a chemical compound that aids their survival, research suggests.

Study suggests epilepsy drug can be used to treat form of dwarfism

September 19, 2017
A drug used to treat conditions such as epilepsy has been shown in lab tests at The University of Manchester to significantly improve bone growth impaired by a form of dwarfism.

Research predicts how patients are likely to respond to DNA drugs

September 19, 2017
Research carried out by academics at Northumbria University, Newcastle could lead to improvements in treating patients with diseases caused by mutations in genes, such as cancer, cystic fibrosis and potentially up to 6,000 ...

Urine output to disease: Study sheds light on the importance of hormone quality control

September 18, 2017
The discovery of a puddle of mouse urine seems like a strange scientific "eureka" moment.

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.