University of Dundee

Blindfold handshake in the cell prevents diseases

05 Feb 2010

Researchers in GRE have made a significant new discovery about how cells behave and protect themselves against cancers and genetic disorders. Professor Tomo Tanaka and his team members Dr Etsushi Kitamura and Mr Shinya Komoto, working in collaboration with researchers in Japan and Germany, have uncovered how cells ensure inheritance of their genetic information in order to prevent diseases. They have discovered what Professor Tanaka described as a `blindfold handshake in the crucial process of cell division, which generates the growth of tissue and organs. This research is published in the latest issue of Developmental Cell. "Kinetochores Generate Microtubules with Distal Plus Ends: Their Roles and Limited Lifetime in Mitosis" Developmental Cell, Volume 18, Issue 2, Pages 248-259, E. Kitamura, K. Tanaka, S. Komoto, Y. Kitamura, C. Antony, T. Tanaka

Human cells contain 46 chromosomes, all of which carry vital genetic information that is crucial for the proper function of cells. Each chromosome must be precisely copied and separated as cells divide during growth of tissues and organs. Loss or excess of any chromosome could generate cancer cells, or cause genetic disorders such as Down's syndrome. "The process of chromosome separation is regulated by a network of threads called microtubules which pull the chromosomes apart into each newborn cell", said Professor Tanaka. "It had been thought this process the network was organised by the cell ends. To prepare for this process of chromosome separation, the thread network must first find and capture each chromosome. Normal cells can achieve this process in a defined, very short time window but it has been a mystery how they accomplish it so efficiently. We have discovered that these thread networks, somewhat unexpectedly, are generated not only from the cell ends but also from sites on the chromosomes themselves. Even more unexpectedly, chromosomes organize the thread network more frequently when preparation for chromosome separation is delayed, as if they sense there is a delay and they must be hurried. It is remarkable that our cells invented such a clever mechanism; because the thread networks from cell ends and from chromosomes can find each other and mingle quickly, cells become prepared for chromosome separation efficiently and on time. It is like two blindfolded people trying to find each others hand to shake; to achieve their handshake quickly, both people need to extend their arms and move them around until they touch and their hands grasp each other.

The Tanaka Group believes that this is one of the most crucial steps in assuring cells chromosome inheritance during their divisions, thus preventing cell death, cancers and other diseases; and are currently trying to discover how the blindfold handshake is maintained without breakage once established.

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