Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Protein Triggers Cell Death

When cells suffer too much DNA damage, they are usually forced to undergo programmed cell death, or apoptosis. However, cancer cells often ignore these signals, flourishing even after chemotherapy drugs have ravaged their DNA.

A new finding from MIT researchers may offer a way to overcome that resistance: The team has identified a key protein involved in an alternative death pathway known as programmed necrosis. Drugs that mimic the effects of this protein could push cancer cells that are resistant to apoptosis into necrosis instead.

While apoptosis is a tightly controlled procedure that breaks down and disposes of the dying cell in a very orderly way, necrosis is a messier process in which the cell’s membrane ruptures and its contents spill out.

“People really used to think of necrosis as cells just falling apart, that it wasn’t programmed and didn’t require gene products to make it happen,” says Leona Samson, a member of MIT’s Center for Environmental Health Sciences and Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. “In the last few years it has become more clear that this is an active process that requires proteins to take place.”

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