A new study by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers is the first to identify the primary mechanism controlling a metabolic process essential for cell growth and proliferation. This pathway is centered around the mTOR protein, which relays growth signals to cells in response to external stimuli, including insulin and nutrients. The scientists speculate that one day researchers may be able to use this new knowledge to develop treatments for certain cancers which have uncontrolled mTOR signaling.

The study appeared online in the February 21, 2013 issue of Science Express.

Cells closely monitor the availability of growth factors, nutrients, and energy. They respond to growth signals by generating nucleotides, the building blocks of RNA and DNA, which are essential to replicating the cellular genetic material for the new cells.This study is the first to demonstrate a novel control mechanism through which this process occurs, providing a molecular link between growth signals and the synthesis of new nucleotides.

The mTOR protein is expressed in all cells in the human body. Its signaling pathway senses and integrates cellular growth signals and acts as a conduit between these signals and the control of specific energy- and nutrient-consuming biosynthetic processes, such as protein and lipid synthesis. This study extends these processes essential to cell growth to include nucleotide synthesis.

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