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Paper of the Month

Furthering cancer research: A Ryerson team studies the regulation of signaling phospholipids

By Connie Jeske Crane

 

Human cells labelled with fluorescent protein markers that identify organelles that sort and ship proteins throughout  the cell called early endosomes
Human cells labelled with fluorescent protein markers that identify organelles that sort and ship proteins throughout the cell called early endosomes.

When cancer strikes, with many forms, researchers will see alterations in lipid metabolism. While this relationship is known, scientists still don’t fully understand how lipids contribute to cellular transformations, tumour development and cancer spread.

At Ryerson, a research group in the Department of Chemistry and Biology set out to study one particular type of lipid, namely signaling phospholipids, also referred to as phosphoinositides. Leslie Bone, a student who is currently completing her PhD in Molecular Science at Ryerson, has dedicated her studies to learning more about how fats communicate within cells and how they can be involved in cancer progression. She was also the lead author of the phosphoinositides study, supervised by two Ryerson professors, Dr. Roberto Botelho and Dr. Costin Antonescu.

Asked to further explain the role of tiny signaling phospholipids, Bone says: “Phosphoinositides are important for cellular processes such as cell migration and cell growth. The function of these lipids is often disrupted in human tumors that can progress into cancer.”

While there’s some existing research in this area, Bone says most studies target one aspect. “These lipids are made up of a head group and fatty acid tails. The majority of research has focused on the importance and function of the head group,” she says, adding: “This paper, however, examined the fatty acid tails, which is what makes a phosphoinositide a signalling lipid. We determined that the type of fatty acid molecules that can be attached to phosphoinositides is very important for the proper functioning of the whole lipid molecule.”

Human cells manipulated to detect the enzyme that adds  fatty acids onto phosphoinositides to identify its location within cells.
Human cells manipulated to detect the enzyme that adds fatty acids onto phosphoinositides to identify its location within cells.

Significantly, Bone developed a method to disrupt the function of an enzyme responsible for attaching the proper fatty acid onto phosphoinositides. She and her teammates then assessed the impact on phosphoinositide levels and cellular functions using biochemical and imaging methods. Ultimately, says Bone, “We have identified another mechanism of regulation of phosphoinositide lipids that may impact cancer research.”

Recently, her team’s findings were published in the journal, Molecular Biology of the Cell, in an article called “The acyltransferase LYCAT controls specific phosphoinositides and related membrane traffic.”

Nearing the end of her doctoral studies, Bone, who also currently serves as president of the Women in Science at Ryerson (WISR) group, is positive about her educational experience. “What I enjoyed most during my grad studies is the Ryerson community. Everyone is constantly supporting each other.”

In the future, Bone says she hopes to continue her research work, hone her communication skills as a scientist and work to increase the visibility of science to the public.

Bone’s research was supported by numerous grants and awards including: an Ontario Early Researcher Award, a Canada Research Chair Award, NSERC Grant (to Dr. Botelho), a Ryerson Health Research Fund Award, an operating grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (to Dr. Antonescu) and an Ontario Graduate Scholarship.