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Understanding mechanisms that ensure cell health

Diseases such as cancer or infertility are often associated with changes in the amount of centrioles, small cell structures involved in the process of cell division. Researchers from the Gulbenkian Science Institute (IGC) have recently published an article in the scientific journal Current Biology, which deepens the knowledge about these structures, enhancing new forms of diagnosis and therapy.

The team of researchers discovered that PLK4 (Polo-like kinase 4) - one of the key proteins that controls the formation of centrioles - is able to self-regulate by self-destructing, thus ensuring control over the number of centrioles in cells. This "suicide" takes place in a time-controlled manner for the benefit of cell health. Tested also in living organisms, using the fruit fly as a model organism, the importance of the destruction mechanism was confirmed.

The manipulation of centrioles has been the target of research, in the hope of finding new forms of diagnosis and therapy for some cancers. Mónica Bettencourt Dias, who leads the team of researchers, believes that understanding the regulation of this protein is a very important step, to the extent that clinical trials "based on PLK4 inhibition" have already been announced in Canada.

This research was developed by the IGC in partnership with researchers from the Institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics (Warsaw, Poland), and the University of Cambridge (UK) and funded by the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT), the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), and the European Research Council (ERC).