Obscure protein is spotlighted in fight against leukemia

Jan. 21, 2022

Researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) found that AML cells rely on a previously little-known protein called SCP4 for survival. Their discovery points to a potential new therapeutic approach for this disease, according to a news release from the organization.

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is an aggressive cancer of white blood cells with few effective targeted therapies available to treat it.

SCP4 is a phosphatase, a type of protein that regulates cell activity by taking phosphates off other proteins. Another type of protein called a kinase puts those phosphates back on. The number of phosphates added to or subtracted from a protein — its phosphorylation level — determines its activity.

The researchers discovered that SCP4 could pair with either one of two similar kinases called STK35 and PDIK1L. AML cells appear to need the phosphatase and kinases to work together to survive; turning off the gene that produces SCP4 kills the cancer cells.

The researchers think SCP4 may control an important metabolic pathway on which AML cells depend. Drugs directed against SCP4 could starve and kill the cancer cells while allowing other healthy blood cells to grow. Fortunately, other phosphatases have been successfully targeted by drugs before.

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