Fruit Flies Help Uncover Tumor-Preventing Proteins

Scientists have identified a protein complex that stops brain cells from dedifferentiating back into stem cells, thereby preventing tumor formation.

AsianScientist (Mar. 19, 2014) – A team of researchers from Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School have discovered a protein complex that disrupts dedifferentiation, a process known to promote tumor development.

Neural stem cells or ‘neuroblasts’ from the brains of larval fruit flies have become a popular model for studying neural stem cells in humans. When neuroblasts divide into two new cells, one remains a neuroblast while the other becomes progenitor cell which can mature into other types of brain cells.

Although the process of maturation is usually one way, certain mature cells occasionally escape the control mechanisms and undergo the reverse process to dedifferentiate back into neuroblasts. Dedifferentiation leads to the formation of ectopic neural stem cells which result in brain tumors.

Asst Professor Wang Hongyan and her team were interested in the control mechanisms that normally prevent dedifferentiation from taking place. Using the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) model, they identified a three-protein complex that plays an important role in regulating dedifferentiation.

All three proteins are involved in different aspects of gene expression: Earmuff is a transcription factor that controls the process by which the genes in DNA are transcribed to make molecules of messenger RNA; while Brahma and HDAC3 are both involved in a process called chromatin remodeling.

These findings shed light on the mechanisms of dedifferentiation, and could help scientists understand tumor formation and stem cell behavior.

The team hopes to next investigate which specific genes are regulated by the Brahma-HDAC3-Earmuff complex.

The article can be found at: Koe et al. (2014) The Brm-HDAC3-Erm Repressor Complex Suppresses Dedifferentiation In Drosophila Type II Neuroblast Lineages.


Source: Duke-NUS; Photo: Image Editor/Flickr/CC.
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