No cell walls, no new cancer cells

An essential building block and how to take it away

(Uppsala, August 1) -- Cancer cells, like houses, need building materials for their walls. And as with a house, the cell wall needs to be built at just the right moment to protect and allow the construction of internal components. A team from the Uppsala Branch of the global Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (LICR) has not only shown how the cell gets this timing right, but has also conducted proof-of-principle studies that indicate taking away the cell's bricks and mortar is a potential strategy for cancer control.

"New cells are created by the duplication of existing cells through a highly-organized process known as the cell cycle," explains lead author, Dr. Maite Bengoechea Alonso. "Last year we discovered that a protein called SREBP1 that regulates the synthesis of lipids needed for new cell walls was regulated during the cell cycle. Now we show that the SREBP1 protein actually controls the cell cycle."

Senior author, LICR's Dr. Johan Ericsson, realized that disrupting the function of SREBP1 might prevent the lipid synthesis required for new cell walls. "In fact, we literally stopped the cell cycle in its tracks by removing SREBP1 from cells. It seems that if you don't have SREBP1 activity, you can't make lipids, and if you don't have lipids, you can't make new cells."

According to Dr. Ericsson, who is also a Research Fellow of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, this approach might one day form the basis of a new strategy for the long-term control of cancer. "Cancer cells divide uncontrollably, so their need for lipids is more urgent and continuous than normal cells. Treatment with an inhibitor of SREBP1 might reduce the rate of cancer cell proliferation to slow down tumor growth, or might enhance the effect of targeted therapies that aim to actually kill cancer cells."

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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