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Molecule acts as umpire to make tough life-or-death calls

Douglas Green, PhD

Cells may be small, but they are home to plenty of mystery and drama. Take the enzyme known as RIPK1. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital scientists have just determined that after birth, RIPK1 functions like an umpire in cells, making the tough calls necessary to balance competing signals that determine if cells live or die.

RIPK1 is already the focus of research to develop drugs that limit cell damage following heart attack, stroke or kidney injury. This study suggests the enzyme and the signals it helps to control might be harnessed to kill cancer cells. The results also provide clues about how the disease-fighting immune system curbs the spread of infection.

“This study fundamentally changes the way we think about RIPK1, a molecule that we care about because it is required for life,” said the study’s corresponding author Douglas Green, PhD, chair of the St. Jude Department of Immunology.

The research appears in the scientific journal Cell.

May 20, 2014

Read the news release