Scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have identified a previously undetected trigger point on a naturally occurring "death protein" that helps the body get rid of unwanted or diseased cells. They say it may be possible to exploit the newly found trigger as a target for designer drugs that would treat cancer by forcing malignant cells to commit suicide.
The researchers fashioned a peptide (a protein subunit) that precisely matched the shape of the newly found trigger site on the killer protein, which lies dormant in the cell's interior until activated by cellular stress. When the peptide docked into the binding site, BAX was spurred into assassin mode. The activated BAX proteins flocked to the cell's power plants, the mitochondria, where they poked holes in the mitochondria's membranes, killing the cells. This process is called apoptosis, or programmed cell death.
"We identified a switch that turns BAX on, and we believe this discovery can be used to develop drugs that turn on or turn off cell death in human disease by targeting BAX," said Walensky, who is also an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.
Ref: BAX activation is initiated at a novel interaction site. 2008. Evripidis Gavathiotis et al. Nature 455: 1076-1081.
Tomb of the Blind Dead