Scientists have reported new discoveries about the way in which red blood cells develop.
Professor Daniel Finley of Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, and his team looked at the way in which cells deal with excess proteins, as this is 'a major quality-control problem for the cell'.
They examined the process of degradation of this protein, and identified a quality-control pathway for the most common types of excess protein - haemoglobin and ribosomes, which make protein in cells. The central player in this process is an unusual enzyme called UBE2O, that recognises these proteins and tags them for destruction, say the authors in Science recently.
This UBE2O pathway is extremely important in controlling which parts of the red blood cell get destroyed and which parts are spared, in the process whereby precursor red blood cells become fully developed ones.
Professor Finley says: 'The creation of highly specialised cells is very important for processes such as oxygen delivery to tissues, our ability to see and reproduce, and to make skin. Understanding exactly how this happens gives us better insight into some of the most fundamental properties of living things.'
He first identified the enzyme UBE2O in the 1990s, as a marker used by cells to tag unnecessary parts for destruction. It does so with a small protein called ubiquitin, in cells throughout the body.
Now for the first time, the technology exists to show that this process is linked to the specialisation of red blood cells.
'I think our work calls attention to the complicated processes behind the development of specialised cells, which is seen throughout nature,' Professor Finley says. 'It was really exciting to identify and study a possible treatment for genetic disease.'
Source: Nguyen, A. T. et al. UBE2O remodels the proteome during terminal erythroid differentiation. Science 4 August 2017; doi: 10.1126/science.aan0218
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