Cells’ ‘timed’ transactions might help develop cancer drugs

A new study has suggested that cells, which have the power of communicating with each other, know exactly when to transmit signals and when to shut up letting other cells do the talking.

Dr. David Sprinzak, a new faculty recruit of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, and colleagues discovered the mechanism that allows cells to switch from sender to receiver mode or vice versa, inhibiting their own signals while allowing them to receive information from other cells.

“In one state, a cell can send a message and not receive, and in the other it receives and cannot send. They can talk or listen, but they cannot do both at the same time,” said Dr. Sprinzak.

This switch is crucial to helping the cells make yes-and-no decisions in which neighboring cells adopt distinct fates. Such “cell fate” decisions are responsible for formation of boundaries between developmental tissues, such as those between the vertebrae protecting our spine.

They can also account for many patterns of differentiation in the body, such as the pattern of neurons in our brain, or sensory hairs in the inner ear.

The breakthrough can lead to the development of cancer drugs that specifically target these transactions as needed, further inhibiting or encouraging the flow of information between cells and potentially stopping the uncontrollable proliferation of cancer cells.

The study was published in the journal PLoS Computational Biology.

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