Researchers at The University of Western Australia and the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research (WAIMR) have revealed a ground-breaking new molecular structure formed by two human proteins involved in turning genes on and off in cancer.
The combination of structural biology studies carried out at the Australian Synchrotron (Clayton, VIC) and high-resolution microscopy studies carried out at WAIMR, explains not only how the proteins can act together but also where in the cell they act.
Lead author Professor Charlie Bond, from UWA's School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, said that while previous studies had shown the importance of these proteins to cells and cancers, this is the first time researchers had a picture of what they look like.
"Proteins in our cells are like very tiny machines," Professor Bond said. "In order to understand how they work and develop drugs against them, we have to magnify them. By combining microscopy and a sophisticated technique called crystallography, we have been able to observe the detailed atomic structure of NONO and PSPC1, and their location in the cell."
Co-author Dr Archa Fox, from WAIMR, added, "This is an important finding because it is the first step towards developing drugs that could change the way these proteins work. However, more work is required to show how they might be targeted by new cancer drugs."
The proteins NONO and PSPC1 are found in a part of the human cell called a paraspeckle, discovered by Dr Fox in 2001. The work relied heavily on contributions from UWA PhD student Daniel Passon and research fellow Mihwa Lee, who were able to access the Australian Synchrotron's world-class Macromolecular Crystallography and Small-angle X-ray Scattering facilities.