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News, Research

Active substance from plant slows down aggressive eye cancer

15/05/2019By Richard Chiu • Staff Journalist
A plant commonly used as a Christmas ornament may hold the keys to slowing uveal melanoma, according to researchers from the Universities of Bonn and Magdeburg.

The coralberry, which is used all over Germany as a holiday decoration, contains an active toxin named FR - short for FR900359 – that works as a potent natural insecticide to protect the plant from attacks.

“The substance inhibits an important group of molecules in the cells, the Gq proteins,” study author Dr Evi Kostenis from the Institute of Pharmaceutical Biology at the University of Bonn said.

Once the Gq proteins are activated by certain control signals, it temporarily triggers different metabolic pathways. To prevent cells from permanently changing their behaviour, the Gq proteins deactivate themselves after a short period.

“We also used FR in our experiments and were surprised to find that it suppresses the proliferation of cancer cells”
Evelyn Gaffal, University of Magdeburg

In uveal melanoma, two important Gq proteins are prevented from returning to their inactive state due to a tiny mutation, rendering them permanently active. Because of this, the cells that contain the mutation continue to divide uncontrollably.

"FR can stop this division activity," Kostenis said. "That's something no one would have expected."

Previous research has found evidence that FR can prevent the activation of Gq proteins by ‘clinging’ to the proteins and ensuring that they remain in their inactive form. Also, a common understanding was that FR ignores any Gq proteins that have already been activated.

"Therefore, it seemed impossible for the substance to be effective in mutated – and thus permanently active – Gq proteins," study co-author Dr Evelyn Gaffal from the University of Magdeburg said.

"We also used FR in our experiments and were surprised to find that it suppresses the proliferation of cancer cells," Dr Gaffal added.

Their findings were published in the journal Science Signaling.

The toxin, which is produced by bacteria that thrive on the leaves of the coralberry, has been the focus of research for some time. The results compare to similar research published by the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Mt Sinai earlier this year.


More reading:

Christmas berry could play role in fighting uveal melanoma

Image caption: (from left) Professor Gabriele M. König, Professor Evi Kostenis, Ms Suvi Annala. Image credit: Volker Lannert/Uni Bonn


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