New! Sign up for our free email newsletter.
Science News
from research organizations

UCSF Scientists Halt Tumor Growth By Manipulating Telomerase Enzyme

Date:
July 5, 2001
Source:
University Of California - San Francisco
Summary:
UCSF researchers report that they were able to slow the growth of human cancer cells - or cause them to commit suicide altogether -- by creating just a miniscule mutation in the telomerase enzyme.
Share:
FULL STORY

UCSF researchers report that they were able to slow the growth of human cancer cells - or cause them to commit suicide altogether -- by creating just a miniscule mutation in the telomerase enzyme.

The study, conducted in breast and prostate cells grown in culture and in tumors formed from human breast cancer cells grafted into mice, suggests that human cancer cells are much more sensitive to disruptions in the telomerase enzyme than had been thought. The finding hints, the researchers say, at a possible new strategy for thwarting human cancers.

In humans, telomerase is inactive in most adult cells, and only active at certain times in others, but it is highly active in cancer cells, and has been suggested as a potential therapeutic target. However, previous studies in human cancer cells have indicated that disrupting telomerase as a means of halting cancer cell replication or inducing cell suicide would require an almost complete loss of normal telomerase activity. And this would require either swamping the enzyme with an overwhelming amount of mutant telomerase or finding a sufficiently potent drug to completely inhibit the enzyme.

But in the current study, the researchers observed that inserting a tiny mutation in the gene coding for a small but critical portion of the telomerase enzyme prompted a dramatic response from cancer cells. The finding suggests a more efficient means of delivering therapy. Most of the human breast and prostate cancer cells grown in culture lost the ability to replicate or they committed suicide, while tumors formed from human breast cancer cells grafted into mice were smaller than those generated from cells that didn't have the mutation. Moreover the response occurred despite the fact that most of the normal telomerase was retained. The researchers induced the response with several different variations of the mutant gene.

"We were quite surprised at how strong the effect was," says the senior author of the study, Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, UCSF professor of biochemistry and biophysics. "Cancer cells are tough. They usually ignore the signals that tell them to commit suicide. But by spiking the telomerase enzyme with just a little bad telomerase we saw a powerful effect." Blackburn, in 1985, co-discovered the telomerase enzyme.

The study is published in the July 3 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers created the mutation in a minute portion of the enzyme's template, a sequence of ribonucleic acid (RNA) that the enzyme synthesizes into deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and places on the tips of telomeres, DNA-protein complexes at the ends of chromosomes. Telomeres maintain the integrity of chromosomes and their ability to divide accurately during cell division. However, the tips of telomeres drop off each time a cell divides, and when they are gone a cell stops dividing. (This built-in limit on cell division, known as the Hayflick limit, was discovered in 1961 by UCSF adjunct professor of anatomy Leonard Hayflick, PhD.) The telomerase's ability to spin out DNA from an RNA template - a technique known as reverse transcriptase - to replenish telomeres is essential to the life of dividing cells.

The mutation within the telomerase RNA - which itself is a mere 450 nucleotides - was a tenth the size of a typical gene. Notably, it did not alter most telomeres' lengths. The finding suggests, says Blackburn, that "uncapping" of only one or a few telomeres per cell by the mutant telomerase can trigger a DNA damage response, thereby inducing cell-cycle arrest or inducing cell death in human cancer cells.


Story Source:

Materials provided by University Of California - San Francisco. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of California - San Francisco. "UCSF Scientists Halt Tumor Growth By Manipulating Telomerase Enzyme." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 July 2001. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/07/010704093321.htm>.
University Of California - San Francisco. (2001, July 5). UCSF Scientists Halt Tumor Growth By Manipulating Telomerase Enzyme. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 17, 2024 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/07/010704093321.htm
University Of California - San Francisco. "UCSF Scientists Halt Tumor Growth By Manipulating Telomerase Enzyme." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/07/010704093321.htm (accessed June 17, 2024).

Explore More

from ScienceDaily

RELATED STORIES