Tiny proteins found across the animal kingdom play a key role in cancer spread

Discovery about specific proteins shed light on cancer spread
Published: 15 May 2023

Phosphatases of regenerating liver (PRLs) are a family of enigmatic proteins involved in cell growth and metabolism present in various species. From humans to fruit flies, they play a unique role in the growth of cancerous tumours and the spread of cancer throughout the body. New research emerging from McGill University is contributing to what is known about PRLs, which could potentially become an important tool in the development of cancer-fighting treatments.  

Led by Kalle Gehring, a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and founding director of the McGill Centre for Structural Biology, the researchers focused on unravelling the mystery around PRLs. “It's important for us to study PRLs because they are so important in cancer,” said Gehring, “In some cancers such as metastatic colorectal cancer, the proteins are overexpressed up to 300-fold.” 

Published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Prof. Gehring and his colleagues (with data collected at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan) confirmed that not only PRLs exist in all kinds of single- and multi-cell animals, but that the role of PRLs in binding magnesium transporters is common among all studied species.  

This overexpression of PRLs makes cancer cells more metastatic and drives the spread to other organs. This data could help to further the understanding of how these proteins influence human disease. 

“What we learned is that they all bind the magnesium transporters in the same way,” says Gehring. “We're excited because it helps us understand this pathway, and that will reveal new targets for drugs to prevent cancer progression.” 

About the study

Burst kinetics and CNNM binding are evolutionarily conserved properties of phosphatases of regenerating liver” by Kalle Gehring and al. was published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

With files from the Canadian Light Source / Victoria Schramm

About McGill University

Founded in Montreal, Quebec, in 1821, McGill University is Canada’s top ranked medical doctoral university. McGill is consistently ranked as one of the top universities, both nationally and internationally. It is a world-renowned institution of higher learning with research activities spanning two campuses, 12 faculties, 14 professional schools, 300 programs of study and over 39,000 students, including more than 10,200 graduate students. McGill attracts students from over 150 countries around the world, its 12,800 international students making up 31% of the student body. Over half of McGill students claim a first language other than English, including approximately 19% of our students who say French is their mother tongue.

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