Cancer and Memory: A Molecular Connection
There is a large class of proteins called cyclins that regulate normal cell growth and division. Since cancer is a result of aberrant growth it comes as no surprise that cyclin over-expression is associated with many types of cancer. It would also follow that drugs aimed at suppressing hyperactive cyclins would present an intriguing opportunity as new therapeutic agents. Alas, no such drug yet exists for the treatment of human cancer.
Cyclins are needed for proliferation, so they would not be expected in cells that don’t grow and divide such as in the central nervous system. Surprisingly, one member of the family (cyclin E) is found at high levels in the brain – one thus wonders what function it might serve.
Wonder no more, thanks to a new paper by a Boston-based group. Odajima et al. found that knocking out the cyclin E gene results in mice that are deficient in memory formation, learning, and cognitive flexibility. Since brain cells don’t normally divide, cyclin is playing an altogether different molecular role in the brain than it does when regulating cell growth. This in turn raises the possibility that cyclins may be involved in human cognitive disorders or pathologies.
Pity the poor chemist, however, who wants to make a drug targeted at cyclin E. If you up regulate the protein’s activity you risk promoting cancer. If you down regulate you risk memory and learning impairment. It’s a good challenge for sure to try to get it just right.
Tom Tritton is President and CEO of CHF.
King Cancer [Chemical Heritage]