MAR 24, 2016 8:00 AM PDT

What Brad Pitt's cowlick has to do with fighting cancer

What does Brad Pitt have in common with a fruit fly? They both have cowlicks—a swirl of hair caused by a patterning mechanism.
 
Most cells in our body show a polarized organization that is important to carry out specialized functions, such as transporting nutrients across cells of the gut, sticking to each other to provide support and making larger scale patterns seen in hair, such as cowlicks.


Now, researchers have discovered the genes that cause cowlicks are regulated by a tumor suppressor protein. On the macro scale, their presence can be seen in feather and fish scale patterns. On the cellular level, they are directly regulated by a cancer protein, the retinoblastoma tumor suppressor protein.
 

Tumor suppressors, such as retinoblastoma, are guardians of our cells that control cell division, DNA repair and cellular suicide signals—all important tools in fighting cancer. In examining genes that have the retinoblastoma protein associated with them on the chromosomes, researchers discovered that polarity genes in the fruit fly Drosophila are controlled by retinoblastoma protein.

“We know that the retinoblastoma protein controls cell division, policing the activity of oncogenes, genes that can potentially cause cancer, but our study suggests that this protein also may control cell migration, which is thrown out of whack by diseases such as cancer,” says Sandhya Payankaulam, lead author of the study published in Scientific Reports and research assistant professor at Michigan State University, who works in David Arnosti’s and Bill Henry’s biochemistry and molecular biology labs.

Most cells in our body show a polarized organization that is important to carry out specialized functions, such as transporting nutrients across cells of the gut, sticking to each other to provide support and making larger scale patterns seen in hair, such as cowlicks.

Polarity specifies the front and rear end of a cell, which is absolutely essential for proper migration from one place during development. Control of this migration is lost when cancer cells move about the body during metastasis, at which point the disease becomes difficult to treat.
 

Fruit flies: Tiny people with wings


“A great deal of research on cell polarity is directed toward understanding how polarity proteins interact with each other in cells,” Arnosti says. “Until now, people neglected the regulation of polarity genes, thinking them to be regulated in a rather humdrum manner similar to ‘housekeeping’ genes that are devoted to basic cellular functions. Our work challenges this view and raises an important question relevant to development of new cancer diagnosis and therapies.”

Since fruit flies are essentially tiny people with wings, in terms of genetics, these model organisms can play a key role in advancing human medicine. From analysis of data from human cells, the researchers believe that retinoblastoma plays a similar role in humans, possibly contributing to cancer metastasis.

Payankaulam showed that the fruit fly retinoblastoma protein regulates the polarity genes important for this process, and loss of the fly protein induced misoriented wing hairs, generating an unkempt appearance.

The researchers showed that such defects in establishment of polarity also were found in other tissues, indicating that retinoblastoma protein has a general responsibility for polarity regulation.

Researchers from the University of Toronto are coauthors of the study. The National Institutes of Health funded the work.

Source: Michigan State University

This article was originally published on futurity.org.
About the Author
  • Futurity features the latest discoveries by scientists at top research universities in the US, UK, Canada, Europe, Asia, and Australia. The nonprofit site, which launched in 2009, is supported solely by its university partners (listed below) in an effort to share research news directly with the public.
You May Also Like
SEP 02, 2020
Microbiology
A Common Bacterium Can Evolve in the Stomach
SEP 02, 2020
A Common Bacterium Can Evolve in the Stomach
Helicobacter pylori can be found in as much as fifty percent of the world's population.
SEP 14, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Why Defects in One Gene Can Lead to Cancer in Kids
SEP 14, 2020
Why Defects in One Gene Can Lead to Cancer in Kids
While they may occur in adults, a rare, aggressive type of brain cancer called atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumors tend to ...
SEP 22, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Friedreich's Ataxia Successfully Treated in a Mouse Model
SEP 22, 2020
Friedreich's Ataxia Successfully Treated in a Mouse Model
Friedreich's ataxia causes degeneration in the peripheral nervous system, and movement is progressively impaired over ti ...
OCT 14, 2020
Neuroscience
Researchers Pinpoint Neurons Affected by Epilepsy
OCT 14, 2020
Researchers Pinpoint Neurons Affected by Epilepsy
Video: Explains in more detail the different receptors affected by epilepsy. Researchers at the University of Copenhagen ...
OCT 22, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
How a Gene Variant Raises the Risk of Multiple Sclerosis
OCT 22, 2020
How a Gene Variant Raises the Risk of Multiple Sclerosis
Now that sequencing the whole human genome is easier, faster, and cheaper than it used to be, scientists have been able ...
NOV 12, 2020
Cardiology
Creating a Mouse Model to Test RBM20 Dependent Dilated Cardiomyopathy
NOV 12, 2020
Creating a Mouse Model to Test RBM20 Dependent Dilated Cardiomyopathy
Cardiovascular disease is something that, in most cases, is within our ability to control. A healthy diet and active lif ...
Loading Comments...