December 1, 2011

Aliquots — research highlights from VUMC laboratories


Pathway to colon cancer progression

Identifying the molecular pathways that lead normal colon cells to become cancer cell could provide much needed biomarkers and therapeutic targets. Previously, Punita Dhawan, Ph.D., and colleagues showed that claudin-1 – a protein member of “tight junctions” that help bind cells together into an organized tissue structure – was greatly increased and mislocalized in colorectal cancer.

In a recent report in Gastroenterology, they describe the cellular pathway by which claudin-1 influences the transition of normal colon cells into cancerous ones. They show that increased claudin-1 expression in colon cancer cells is associated with loss of expression of the epithelial cell marker E-cadherin, whose reduced expression is correlated with poor prognosis and survival in colon cancer patients. Cell experiments showed that claudin-1 modulates expression of another protein, ZEB-1, which in turn affects E-cadherin expression. This chain of events then leads to cellular changes associated with invasion and progression in colon cancer cells.

The results suggest that ZEB-1, E-cadherin and claudin-1 could serve as biomarkers to indicate invasiveness and prognosis in colorectal cancer.

The research was supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders.

Melissa Marino


Lung resections not always “futile”

Eric Grogan, M.D., M.P.H., and colleagues report that, even when surgical resection results in a benign diagnosis, the operation still provides significant benefits by providing a new diagnosis and/or change in treatment course. Out of 278 lung operations for known or suspected lung cancer performed by surgeons at Vanderbilt, 23 percent of cases had benign disease. Resection led to definitive diagnosis or treatment changes in 85 percent of cases. Despite the highly invasive procedure, in-hospital complications were rare and no deaths occurred.

The findings, reported in the October Journal of Thoracic Oncology, suggest that despite the invasive nature, operative resections for suspicious lung lesions often offer benefits to patients and carry minimal risk of complications or surgery-associated mortality.

The research was supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute and the National Center for Research Resources.

Melissa Marino


Move out, cholesterol

In atherosclerosis, sticky plaques composed of white blood cells called macrophages build up inside artery walls. The disease progresses when fatty materials such as cholesterol accumulate inside the macrophages, leading to foam cell formation. Current treatments use drugs to lower cholesterol levels in the body; an alternate strategy is to increase the flow of cholesterol out of the macrophages – to prevent them from becoming foam cells.

Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology

This research was supported by the Carlyle Fraser Heart Center, CVPath Inc., and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Leigh MacMillan


Drug target for deadly heart infection

The binding of bacteria to human platelets is important for the development of infective endocarditis, a life-threatening infection of the heart. Streptococcus gordonii, a leading cause of endocarditis, uses a protein called GspB to attach to a receptor on human platelets, but little is known about the molecular details of this interaction.

Tasia Pyburn, Tina Iverson, Ph.D., and colleagues determined the crystal structure of the region of GspB that binds to platelet receptors. Using their structural map, the investigators predicted how to disrupt the interaction. They made mutations in GspB that prevented S. gordonii from binding to platelets and reduced endocardial infections in a rat model.

The studies, reported in PLoS Pathogens, provide the first structural information detailing the molecular interactions between a GspB-type of bacterial binding protein and its host receptor. The findings suggest that this interaction may be a drug target in streptococci that could be used to prevent endocardial infections without increasing antibiotic resistance.

This research was supported by grants from the American Heart Association, the Vanderbilt Institute of Chemical Biology, the Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Leigh MacMillan


We welcome suggestions for research to highlight in Aliquots. The items should be primary research articles (no reviews, editorials or commentaries) published within the last two months in a peer-reviewed journal. Please send the article citation (PDF if available) and any other feedback about the column to:

Past Aliquots

June 22, 2012
June 8, 2012
May 11, 2012
April 27, 2012
April 13, 2012
March 30, 2012
March 16, 2012