A new way for cells to kill themselves

Memphis, Tennessee, March 3, 2016

Doug Green, PhD

Billions of cells commit suicide in your body every day. This is a good thing. When excess or damaged cells don’t die as planned, serious problems can arise—including cancers.

St. Jude scientists have discovered a new molecular process that triggers a specific type of cell death. In this process, cells respond to certain stressors by stabilizing a protein called BOK, leading to their own deaths. BOK stabilization is controlled by a quality control system called ERAD.

As neither BOK nor ERAD had been shown with certainty to function in stress-related cell death, the discovery may point to new ways to trigger cell death in some cancers.

“This pathway of molecular events appears to be intrinsically tied to the levels of stress experienced by the cell and ensures the rapid, programmed destruction of both the cell and its contents,” said Doug Green, PhD, St. Jude Immunology chair.

“Our work also suggests that cancer cells expressing high levels of BOK may be particularly sensitive to inhibitors that target the ERAD pathway,” he added.

The findings were published in the journal Cell.

Read the news release

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