Fighting Leukemia Cells By Cutting Off Their Oxygen Source

Researchers have identified the signaling pathway that enables leukemia cells to maintain their oxygen-dependent energy metabolism and ability to divide.

AsianScientist (Sep. 12, 2016) – An international team of researchers has uncovered a new mechanism that enhances the viability of cancerous T-cells and promotes their reproduction.

The study, which was published in Nature Communications, may open up new opportunities for developing treatments targeting acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL), an aggressive form of blood cancer.

Led by Professor Yan Daoguang from Jinan University in Guangdong, China in collaboration with Professor Vesa Olkkonen from the University of Helsinki in Finland, the research team discovered that T-ALL leukemia cells use a specific signaling pathway to maintain their intense, oxygen-dependent energy metabolism and ability to divide. The pathway is largely based on the ORP4L protein, which is expressed only in cancerous T-cells but not in healthy ones.

Targeting different sections of this newly discovered signaling pathway could prevent cancerous cells from growing and reproducing, the researchers say.

“The new results establish that ORP4L binds the protein group that transmits signals on the membranes of the cancerous cells, which accelerates the release of calcium ions from the endoplasmic reticulum. This way, the ‘power plants’ of the cell which run on oxygen, the mitochondria, are free to produce energy to their full capacity,” said Olkkonen.

What makes the findings particularly interesting is that small-molecule inhibitors for the ORP proteins have been discovered, and the researchers may be able to use them to develop new drugs to treat T-ALL leukaemia and perhaps other types of cancer as well, Olkkonen added.

The article can be found at: Zhong et al. (2016) ORP4L is Essential for T-cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Cell Survival.


Source: University of Helsinki; Photo: Pixabay.
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