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Mapping of cancer cell fuel pumps paves the way for new drugs

For the first time, researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have managed to obtain detailed images of the way in which the transport protein GLUT transports sugars into cells. Since tumours are highly dependent on the transportation of nutrients in order to be able to grow rapidly, the researchers are hoping that the study published in the scientific magazine Nature Structural & Molecular Biology will form the basis for new strategies to fight cancer cells.

In order to be able to fuel their rapid growth, cancer tumours depend on transporter proteins to work at high speed to introduce sugars and other nutrients that are required for the cell's metabolism. One possible treatment strategy would therefore be to block some of the transporters in the cell membrane which operate as fuel pumps, thus starving out and killing the cancer cells.

One important group of membrane transporters is the GLUT family, which introduces glucose and other sugars into the cell. Glucose is one of the most important energy sources for cancer cells and GLUT transporters have been shown to play a key role in tumour growth in many different types of cancer. In the current study, researchers from Karolinska Institutet have performed a detailed study of the way in which suger transport is executed by the protein XylE, from the Escherichia coli bacterium, whose function and structure is very similar to GLUT transporters in humans. For the first time, the researchers have described the way in which the protein's structure changes between two different conformations when it binds and transports a sugar molecule.

"In showing details of the molecular structure of the region that bind the sugar, our study opens up the opportunities to more efficiently develop new substances that may inhibit GLUT transporters", says Pr Nordlund at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics, one of the researchers behind the study. "Information on the structure of t

Contact: Karolinska Institutet Press Office
Karolinska Institutet

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