Two professors at Binghamton University in New York are using a novel imaging technique to observe the behavior of an enzyme--called tubulin tyrosine ligase, or TTL--as its behavior can suggest whether certain cancer cells might grow more aggressively than others.
Though they are not developing actual therapies, Susan Bane and Susannah Gal say their research could help further personalize targeted cancer therapies.
"Potentially, we could put [a tumor sample] in our labeling system and say, 'Yes, that has a problem with the TTL system, and therefore you should be more aggressive with it,'" says Gal, whose work is funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. "Or we could say, 'That's probably OK, so you can treat it with normal chemotherapy.'"
The enzyme TTL involves microtubules, which both help chromosomes line up correctly during cell division and provide part of the scaffolding of a cell's structure. Those microtubules are made of proteins called tubulin; the enzyme carboxypeptidase clips an amino acid called tyrosine off the ends of some of these proteins, and later the enzyme TTL puts that tyrosine back on.
Bane says it's unclear why tyrosine is clipped off only to be reattached, but it's clearly an important part of the cell's cycle: "We do know that if you don't have that enzyme, you'll die."
In some cancer cells, that cycle of removing and reattaching tyrosine is disrupted, with too many tubulins lacking tyrosine altogether. Tumors made of those cells, Bane says, "tend to grow more aggressively."… Read more