Newly discovered kinase may hold key to spread of cancer cells

Scientists at the University of California, San Diego have identified a previously unknown kinase that regulates cell proliferation, shape and migration, and may play a major role in the progression or metastasis of cancer cells. 

The research will be published in the May 31 online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Richard L. Klemke, PhD, professor of pathology at the UCSD School of Medicine and the Moores Cancer Center, and colleagues say the new kinase or enzyme regulates the cytoskeleton - the internal framework of tiny filaments and microtubules in cells that gives them shape, coherence and the ability to move.

''This molecule may be an important new target for future anticancer therapies and a clinical biomarker that predicts whether a cancer is likely to spread,'' said Klemke.

Proper regulation of the cytoskeleton is important to many fundamental cellular functions, including axon/dendrite formation, migration, differentiation and proliferation. Conversely, deregulation of the cytoskeleton can contribute to a variety of human diseases, including cancer metastasis or the spread of tumors to other parts of the body.

The new kinase - called pseudopodium-enriched atypical kinase one or PEAK1 - plays a central role in the formation of cellular pseudopodia. Greek for ''false foot,'' a pseudopodium is a highly specialized structure that protrudes from the surface of migrating cells. It attaches the leading, extending membrane of the cell to its underlying substrate, and then helps pull the cell forward. By endlessly repeating this process, a cell is able to move in a productive manner.