New microscopic imaging technology reveals origins of leukaemia

Scientists at the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research at the University of Cambridge and the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology have taken advantage of revolutionary developments in microscopic imaging to reveal the origins of leukaemia. 

The researchers studied tiny protein-producing factories, called ribosomes, isolated from cells. They capitalised on improvements made at the LMB to a high-powered imaging technique known as single particle cryo-electron microscopy. The microscopes, capable of achieving detail near to the atomic level, enabled the team to link the molecular origins of a rare inherited leukaemia predisposition disorder, ‘Shwachman-Diamond Syndrome’ and a more common form of acute leukaemia to a common pathway involved in the construction of ribosomes.

The research, funded by the blood cancer charity Bloodwise and the Medical Research Council (MRC), is published online in the journal Nature Structural and Molecular Biology. Ribosomes are the molecular machinery in cells that produce proteins by ‘translating’ the instructions contained in DNA via an intermediary messenger molecule. Errors in this process are known to play a part in the development of some bone marrow disorders and leukaemias. Until now scientists have been unable to study ribosomes at a high enough resolution to understand exactly what goes wrong. Read more from the University of Cambridge News.

Weis F,  Giudice E, Churcher M, Jin J, Hilcenko C, Wong CC, Traynor D, Kay RR, Warren AJ. Mechanism of eIF6 release from the nascent 60S ribosomal subunit. Nature Structural & Molecular Biology. doi:10.1038/nsmb.3112

Cyro-Em map

Cryo-EM map showing the large ribosomal subunit (cyan), eIF6 (yellow) and the SBDS protein (magenta) that is deficient in the inherited leukaemia predisposition disorder Shwachman-Diamond syndrome. Credit: Alan Warren, University of Cambridge

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