Study suggests how nucleolar DNA damage response to cancer treatment

Study suggests how nucleolar DNA damage response to cancer treatment
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North Carolina, US: Proteins are required for cancer to spread throughout the body, which affects millions of people each year. Scientists are sabotaging the disease's protein factories in an attempt to defeat it.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte encapsulated the young field of nucleolar DNA damage response (DDR) pathways in a new forum paper published in Trends in Biology. The review focuses on six mechanisms by which cells repair DNA damage, one of which was published in Nucleic Acids Research five months ago by the same authors. Future applied researchers will be able to stymie cancer reproduction and growth by attacking these mechanisms.

"The whole purpose of the Trends paper is to bring attention to scientists in the field and trigger their research," said Shan Yan, the main author. "I did not realize the significance of this field, which is only fifteen years old, until a couple of years ago."

In a groundbreaking 2007 paper published in Nature, researchers began the field by unveiling the first pathway within the nucleolus, an area within an organelle, or room, within the cell. Inside the nucleolus, different molecules help copy DNA, which contains the plans for cells. Different factors can cause glitches, such as strand breaks, in the copies. These researchers found a way to help heal glitches when copying ribosomal DNA, or the plans for the protein factories of the cell.

By studying these mechanisms, researchers can target cancer, which relies on ribosomal DNA to make the proteins they need to attack the human body. For instance, a Phase I clinical trial is already underway for a drug that targets the second mechanism listed in the paper--if the cancer cells can't heal glitches, then they can't make new factories and hence can't make new proteins.

While the first four mechanisms take place inside the nucleolus, which is in a room cordoned off within the watery cell, the last two mechanisms use a new cellular process which won the 2023 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. In the process, called liquid-liquid phase transition, proteins pop up their own liquid 'tents' to do their work instead of staying inside a room.

Before working on the nucleolar DDR, Yan researched a protein called APE1. When he discovered that APE1 could locate the nucleolus within a cell and could also pop up these liquid tents to do work, it launched his investigation into these pathways and ultimately to the review paper.

"What's new is that APE1 acts like a GPS or a first responder," Yan said. "It says there's a problem here, we need a police car, a medic, and others to come and be concentrated here."

Basic researchers like Yan will continue to better define these mechanisms, while more applied scientists can then use those mechanisms as points of attack in the war on cancer.

"This is an exciting and emerging area," Yan said. "By testing this idea, and if the clinical trial is successful, then these mechanisms will be tickets into new clinical trials and treatments."