Researchers Discover Magnesium Transport Protein Is Linked to Immune Cell Growth

Children's and UW researchers hope protein may advance treatments for cancer and immunologic disorders.

Children's and UW researchers hope protein may advance treatments for cancer and immunologic disorders.

Seattle, Wash.: July 25, 2003 – In a finding that could lay the groundwork for future development of medicines for cancers and immunologic diseases, immune cell researchers identified a new pathway required for cell growth.

Researchers from Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle and the University of Washington School of Medicine have identified a magnesium transport protein that is essential to cell replication. The research results, published today in the July 25 issue of Cell, show that tumor cells containing the protein divide rapidly, while cells lacking the protein become magnesium deficient and unable to divide.

"This research is exciting because drugs targeting this protein might provide a completely new mechanism to inhibit cell growth, opening the way for new approaches to treat cancer and certain immunologic diseases," said Dr. Andrew Scharenberg, co-author of the article. "The results advance our understanding of how the body's cells handle magnesium. Magnesium has a central role in cellular biochemistry and physiology because a substantial fraction of it is bound to adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the molecule which is the energy source for living cells."

Dr. Scharenberg is a leading researcher at Children's Hospital and an assistant professor of pediatrics and immunology at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

"Dr. Scharenberg has done elegant work to elucidate a key biological role for how specific proteins control magnesium levels inside cells," said Dr. Pamela Marino, a biochemist at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, who funded the research. "His findings are an important step forward in our understanding of the cellular mechanisms that control magnesium levels in vertebrates."

The research team wanted to understand the function of a new ion transport protein they had identified. They found that the protein influenced how proliferating cells regulated their total magnesium levels.

"Our results indicated that this magnesium transport protein has a role in mediating magnesium uptake into cells. Special properties of the protein include forming a pore in the cell wall for magnesium to move through and an enzyme, which modifies other cellular proteins," said Dr. Scharenberg.

Other members of the Children's Hospital and University of Washington research team included fellows Carsten Schmitz and Anne-Laure Perraud, research scientists Catherine Johnson and Megan Smith, and collaborators Reinhold Penner and Andrea Fleig at the University of Hawaii, and Kazunori Inake and Tomohiro Kurosaki at the Riken Research Center in Japan.

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences supports basic biomedical research that lays the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. NIGMS is part of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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