‘Blindfold handshake’ in the cell prevents diseases

Researchers have uncovered how cells ensure inheritance of their genetic information in order to prevent diseases.

A research team led by Professor Tomo Tanaka discovered what Professor Tanaka described as a ‘blindfold handshake’ in the crucial process of cell division (which generates the growth of tissue and organs).

Each of the 46 chromosomes in human cells must be precisely copied and separated as cells divide during growth of tissues and organs. Loss or excess of any chromosome could generate cancer cells or cause genetic disorders such as Down's syndrome.

‘The process of chromosome separation is regulated by a network of “threads” called microtubules, which pull the chromosomes apart into each newborn cell,’ said Professor Tanaka. ‘It had been thought this process the network was organised by the cell ends.

‘To prepare for this process of chromosome separation, the thread network must first find and capture each chromosome. Normal cells can achieve this process in a defined, very short time window but it has been a mystery how they accomplish it so efficiently.

‘We have discovered that these thread networks, somewhat unexpectedly, are generated not only from the cell ends but also from sites on the chromosomes themselves. Even more unexpectedly, chromosomes organize the thread network more frequently when preparation for chromosome separation is delayed, as if they sense there is a delay and they must be hurried.

‘It is remarkable that our cells invented such a clever mechanism. Because the thread networks from cell ends and from chromosomes can find each other and mingle quickly, cells become prepared for chromosome separation efficiently and on time.

'It is like two blindfolded persons trying to find each other’s hand for shaking; to achieve their handshake quickly, both persons need to extend their arms and move them around until they touch and their hands grasp each other.’

The research team believes this is one of the most crucial steps in assuring cells’ chromosome inheritance during their divisions, thus preventing cell death, cancers and other diseases. The team is currently trying to discover how the ‘blindfold handshake’ is maintained when established.

Professor Tanaka and his team members Dr Etsushi Kitamura and Mr Shinya Komoto, all from the University of Dundee, made the discovery in collaboration with researchers in Japan and Germany. Their research is published in the latest issue of Developmental Cell.

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