Essential copper binding protein also facilitates spreading of cancer cell, finds study

A Chalmers research team found that proteins that bind copper ions are required for cancer cell growth and spread throughout the body. It has also discovered possible new therapeutic targets on the interactions between proteins and how they bind to metals in cancer-related proteins.

Human cells require trace amounts of the element copper to carry out necessary biological processes. Researchers have concluded that cancer cells require more copper than healthy cells. Furthermore, as copper levels rise, more copper-binding proteins become active.

Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede, Professor of Chemical Biology at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden said “Therefore, these proteins are highly important to study when it comes to understanding the development of cancer and deeper knowledge about them can lead to new targets for the treatment of the disease,”

The majority of cancer-related deaths are caused by metastases, or secondary tumours, which form in multiple locations throughout the body, such as the liver or lungs. Memo1 is a protein that is part of the signaling systems that cancer cells use to grow and spread throughout the body.

Previous researchers have shown that inactivating the Memo1 gene in breast cancer cells reduces their ability to form metastases.

The researchers were interested in knowing the relationship between copper and Memo. They investigate the Memo1 protein’s ability to bind copper ions using a series of test tube experiments. They discovered that the protein only binds copper in its reduced form.It’s a significant finding because, despite being needed by the body, reduced copper contributes to redox events that harm or even kill cells. They found that when Memo1 interacted with copper, it prevented harmful redox reactions.

“We saw how copper ions could transfer between the proteins Memo1 and Atox1 in test tubes, and when we looked at breast cancer cells, we found that the two proteins were close to each other in space. Based on this, we conclude that the exchange of copper between these proteins can take place in cancer cells as well as in test tubes and thus be of biological relevance,”

Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede while talking about the findings of the research said, “We saw how copper ions could transfer between the proteins Memo1 and Atox1 in test tubes, and when we looked at breast cancer cells, we found that the two proteins were close to each other in space. Based on this, we conclude that the exchange of copper between these proteins can take place in cancer cells as well as in test tubes and thus be of biological relevance,”

“When we expand our basic knowledge of the role of copper-binding proteins in cancer cells, we also open the door to new treatments,” she added

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