Scientists at the University of East Anglia have made a major advancement in understanding tissue development that has important implications for cancer.
Findings published today in the journal Cell Science show how the protein EB2 is a key regulator of tube-like structures inside cells and critical for normal tissue development and function.
The findings are an important step in the race to find cures for cancers including gut, breast and pancreatic cancer.
Microtubules are tubular structures that make up the internal 'skeleton' of cells and perform many essential functions. EB2 belongs to an important group of proteins that influence the behaviour of microtubules.
Researchers investigated the microtubule make-up of cells in epithelium tissue, which is one of the four basic types of animal tissue along with connective tissue, muscle tissue and nervous tissue. Epithelial tissues line the cavities and surfaces of structures throughout the body and also form many glands.
Lead researcher Dr Mette Mogensen, from UEA's school of Biological Sciences, said: "We found that EB2 is a key regulator of microtubule reorganisation which is essential for normal epithelial development and function.
"Our findings represent a major advancement in our understanding of how these cell structures work and change, which not only has implications for the maintenance of a healthy tissue but also for cancer.
"We have also shown that the level of EB2 expression determines the microtubule pattern within cells and therefore how they behave. Low expression of EB2 ensures microtubule stability and promotes bundle formation whereas high expression of EB2 helps to maintain a flexible population of microtubules.
"This is important because the precise pattern that microtubules form within cells directly relates to their function. For example stable bundles of microtubules, promoted by low EB2 expression, enable efficient transport of molecules in and out of cells, which is essential for some cells in the gut.
"On the other hand, unbundled flexible microtubules, promoted by high EB2 expression, are important for normal function of stem cells in the gut."
Notes to editors
The research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the cancer charity Big C. The next stage of the research will focus on the regulation of EB2 which is critical for normal epithelial tissue development and function, and for maintaining a non-cancerous state.
The paper: 'The mictotubule end-binding protein EB2 is a central regulator of microtubule reorganisation in apico-basal epithelial differentiation' by Deborah A Goldspink, Jonathan R Gadsby, Gemma Bellett, Jennifer Keynton, Benjamin J Tyrrell, Elizabeth K Lund, Penny P Powell, Paul Thomas and Mette M Mogensen is published in the journal Cell Science on June 28, 2013.
For more information, a copy of the paper, or to arrange an interview with Dr Mette Mogensen, please see external contact details below.
About the UEA
The University of East Anglia (UEA) was founded in 1963 and this year celebrates its 50th anniversary. It has played a significant role in advancing human understanding and in 2012 the Times Higher Education ranked UEA as one of the 10 best universities in the world under 50 years of age. The university has graduated more than 100,000 students, attracted to Norwich Research Park some of Britain's key research institutes and a major University Hospital, and made a powerful cultural, social and economic impact on the region. www.uea.ac.uk/50years
UEA's School of Biological Sciences is ranked 13th in the Guardian League Table 2014 and 90% of research activity was classified as internationally leading, excellent or recognised in the latest Research Assessment Exercise. The school was ranked first for teaching in the 2012 National Student Survey. www.uea.ac.uk/bio
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £500M (2012-2013), we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.