Cell division is one of the most basic processes necessary for human life. But just because something is basic, doesn’t mean it can’t go wrong.
In a paper published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, OMRF scientists describe how the same process that duplicates chromosomes also activates the molecular glue that keeps cell division working correctly. The research could have implications for understanding the processes that lead to birth defects and cancers.
“When a cell prepares to divide, it makes identical copies of its chromosomes: one set for each new cell,” said Susannah Rankin, Ph.D., the senior author of the paper. “It lays down a kind of glue to hold the copies together until just before the division happens.”
If everything works correctly, the result is two identical cells. But if the glue doesn’t hold, the new cells can inherit the wrong number of chromosomes, leading to conditions like Down syndrome or even cancer.
“This is science at the most basic level,” Rankin said. “But we have to first know how things work when everything goes right in order to understand how things go wrong in conditions like Down syndrome or Roberts syndrome,” a genetic disorder characterized by cognitive disabilities and malformation of the bones in the face and limbs.
“If you remember high school biology, they would always show the pictures of the chromosomes as an ‘X,’” said Rankin. “Well, those are chromosomes in cells right before they divide, and the glue is what’s holding them together in the middle.”
Rankin said the next step for her lab is to find out how the process of activating the glue, referred to as chromosome cohesion, is regulated by the chromosome duplication machinery.
OMRF scientists Andrea Lafont, Ph.D., and Jianhua Song, Ph.D., co-authored the paper. The research was funded by grants from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology, the National Center for Research Resources and the Pew Foundation.