University of Manchester researchers identified a gene that they believe plays a critical role in normal cell division.
“Before cells can divide, they have to duplicate and then distribute their genetic material so that the two daughter cells receive all the genetic information for further growth and development,” says Stephen Taylor, Ph.D., who led the research and is a life sciences professor. “The distribution phase has to be done with a high degree of accuracy, so the cell has a surveillance mechanism that acts as a brake to delay chromosome segregation until accuracy has been guaranteed.”
The team found that when the gene Bub 1 is switched off the surveillance mechanism fails and accuracy is lost, resulting in cell death. “We have shown that mouse embryos lacking the Bub 1 gene are unable to develop,” explains Dr. Taylor. “Older cell types also failed to divide when the gene is switched off, while male mice lacking Bub 1 became infertile as their sperm cells died.
“Unlike some other genes that become mutated in cancer cells, the Bub 1 gene appears normal indicating that it behaves in exactly the same way in cancer cells as it does in healthy cells. If this is the case, then we can be confident that switching it off will stop cancer cells proliferating too. And while our normal cells don’t divide that often, cancer cells divide more frequently, so hopefully by targeting Bub1 we will selectively kill cancer cells,” concludes Dr. Taylor.
The research is published in the October 9 issue of Developmental Cell.