The protein, called syndecan-4, combines with fellow cell membrane proteins, called integrins, to form protruding 'hands' that sense the environment outside the cell.
Both proteins sit in the cell membrane, with one end pointing inside the cell and the other outside. They are therefore in a prime position to sense conditions outside the cell and convert signals to biochemical messages that change conditions inside the cell. In doing so, they're able to drive some of the cellular processes behind cancer and other diseases.
The early-stage research, conducted by a team at Imperial College London, Queen Mary University of London, and Tampere University in Finland, could present a new research pathway and drug target for certain cancer types.
Lead researcher Dr Armando del Río Hernández, of Imperial's Department of Bioengineering, said:
Our findings could have immediate implications in the fields of cell and developmental biology, and lead to developments in several diseases including cancer and fibrosis."
The paper is published today in Nature Materials . Helping hands
Syndecan-4 exists in nearly every human cell and is already known for its role in cardiovascular disease. However its potential roles in cancer biology and drug development have thus far been overlooked.
To study syndecan-4 the research team, led by Dr del Río Hernández, used biophysical, cell biology, and computational techniques.
The team found that activating these cellular 'hands' triggers a pathway with key roles in disease development, involving a cellular protein called the yes-associated protein (YAP).
YAP triggers some of the typical hallmarks of cancer. It reduces cells' ability to program their own death, in a process called apoptosis. Cells initiate apoptosis when they age or malfunction, so halting apoptosis allows diseased, even cancerous, cells to spread. YAP also controls the development of blood vessels - a hallmark of cancer as tumor growth requires extra blood flow. Related Stories
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