A new study published in Cell has revealed how Unc5 and GPC3, work together to guide the movement of neuronal and cancer cells.
Elena Seiradake's team along with researchers from Barcelona, Lyon and their collaborators present the detailed structural view of how Unc5 and GPC3 come together using the sugars that they carry on their surface. This structural information was produced in Oxford, using X-ray protein crystallography. It enabled the production of sophisticated tools to study the biology of these proteins. The big surprise came as researchers in Barcelona and Lyon realised that Unc5-GPC3 proteins direct migrating cells in two completely unrelated biological areas: during formation of the brain and in the spreading of cancer cells. By introducing small changes in the proteins the scientists were able to disrupt the formation of the Unc5-GPC3 complex. As a result, the speed of migrating embryonic neurons changed and brain development was perturbed. When applied to neuroblastoma cancer cells, the tumour lost its capacity to move as a tightly-packed mass of cells. The results demonstrate how this molecular system is re-used by different tissues to guide the movements of navigating cells. The information may be the key to finding new ways of combatting associated diseases such as cancer.