Skip to main content

First detailed look at crucial enzyme advances cancer research


Petra Fromme is the director of the Biodesign Center for Applied Structural Discovery. She is also a Regents Professor at ASU's School of Molecular Sciences.

|
March 29, 2021

In order to develop more effective drugs against a range of cancers, researchers have been investigating the molecular structure of many disease-linked enzymes in the body. An intriguing case in point is Taspase 1, a type of enzyme known as a protease. The primary duty of proteases is to break down proteins into smaller peptide snippets or single amino acids.

Taspase 1 appears to play a vital role in a range of physiological processes, including cell metabolism, proliferation, migration and termination. The normal functioning of Taspase 1 can go awry however, leading to a range of diseases, including leukemia, colon and breast cancers, as well as glioblastoma, a particularly lethal and incurable malignancy in the brain. 

Because Taspase 1 dysregulation is increasingly implicated in the genesis and metastasis of various cancers, it has become an attractive candidate for drug development. But before this can happen, researchers will need a highly detailed blueprint of the structure of this protease. 

In a new study appearing in the Cell Press journal Structure, researchers from Arizona State University describe their investigations, which reveal the structure of Taspase 1 as never before.

The study unveils, for the first time, the catalytically active 3D structure of Taspase 1, revealing a previously unexplored region that is essential for the functioning of the molecule. The structure was solved using X-ray crystallography and confirmed with electron microscopy.

Petra Fromme, director of the Biodesign Center for Applied Structural Discovery,  highlights the great importance of the work: "I am so excited that we were able to solve the first structure of the functional active enzyme, as it will have huge implications for the structure-based development on novel anti-cancer drugs.”

The study results show that reducing this critical helical region of Taspase 1 limits protease activity, while eliminating the helical region deactivates Taspase 1 functioning altogether. Earlier research suggests that disabling Taspase 1 activity to block the progression of cancer could be achieved without harmful side effects.

“We have reported the importance of a previously unobserved long fragment of the protein in the catalytic activity of Taspase 1, which can be used as an attractive target to inhibit Taspase1," said Jose Martin-Garcia, lead scientist on the project and co-correponding author with Fromme. “The crystal structure of the active Taspase 1 reported in our article will be greatly beneficial to advance the design of Taspase 1 inhibitors for anti-cancer therapy.”

Fromme and Martin-Garcia are joined by their Biodesign collaborators Nirupa Nagaratnam, Rebecca Jernigan, Brent L. Nannenga and Darren Thifault, along with their multi-institute colleagues.

More Science and technology

 

Two teenagers hug and smile at each other.

ASU study: Support from romantic partners protects against negative relationship stress in teens

Adolescents regularly deal with high levels of stress, which can increase the risk of substance use and experiencing mental…

May 22, 2024
A large bluish-white planet in space.

ASU scientists help resolve 'missing methane' problem of giant exoplanet

In the quest to understand the enigmatic nature of a warm gas-giant exoplanet, Arizona State University researchers have played a…

May 20, 2024
Digital rendering of cells.

Study finds widespread ‘cell cannibalism,’ related phenomena across tree of life

In a new review paper, Carlo Maley and Arizona State University colleagues describe cell-in-cell phenomena in which one cell…

May 20, 2024