Researchers discover a key player in tumor energy metabolism that holds promise for new cancer treatments with fewer side-effects.

Tumours are characterized by uncontrolled cell growth, which is sustained by a series of cellular reactions to produce the energy and molecular building blocks for replication. This process, called cancer cell metabolism, relies on the activity of many proteins and enzymes involved in metabolic pathways. Scientists are now investigating how to target key metabolic proteins in an effort to “reprogram” cancer cell metabolism and inhibit tumour growth and survival.

A team from Oregon State University, The University of Central Florida and New York University have identified a protein modification that regulates the proliferation and survival of tumor cells. The researchers were studying neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2), a condition characterized by tumours of the nervous system. These tumour cells produced a powerful oxidant called peroxynitrite that reacts with the amino acid, tyrosine in proteins. The downstream effect of this protein modification may alter protein function and aspects of cell metabolism.

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