THURSDAY, June 30, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers say they've identified an enzyme that plays a crucial role in controlling the early stages of cell death and might also help trigger cancers.
The team at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas have named the newly identified enzyme "Mule."
Mule destroys a key molecule to start the process of apoptosis, or programmed cell death -- a very natural and beneficial process when working properly. However, malfunctions in this cell death process can also lead to cancer.
The study appears in the July 1 issue of the journal Cell.
The discovery of Mule should open up a whole new field of research aimed at studying the enzyme's role in both normal cell death and cancer, said study senior author Dr. Xiaodong Wang, professor of biochemistry at UT Southwestern Medical Center and a researcher at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
"We think these findings are very significant. This is the first enzymatic step that regulates the degradation of proteins that control cell death," Wang said in a prepared statement.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about cancer.