Protein Production Implicated in Host of Diseases

McGill researchers have uncovered the long-sought-after mechanism that controls the synthesis of the Bicaudal-C protein in fruit flies. Bicaudal-C is one of the estimated 77 per cent of genes implicated in human disease that have obvious counterparts in fruit flies, making this discovery an important step toward solving the mysteries of polycystic kidney disease, cancer and mental retardation in humans.

Paul Lasko, chair of McGill’s Department of Biology, led a team of researchers from McGill and France’s Centre national de la recherche scientifique. They discovered that Bicaudal-C controls how much protein particular messenger ribonucleic acid (messenger RNA) molecules can synthesize, thereby affecting embryo development in fruit flies. Insufficient Bicaudal-C in mother flies produces embryos with two posteriors and no anterior, while overexpression of Bicaudal-C produces embryos with no posterior. In mammals, the counterpart protein has been linked to polycystic kidney disease; in frogs, the same protein is required for embryonic kidney development.

Thus far, there have been no studies of the human counterpart of the Bicaudal-C protein. “We hope our study will guide people working on the human counterpart gene to look for the same type of function,” says Lasko, “to find RNAs that are specific to kidney development. This protein is also related quite closely to the protein which leads to Fragile X, the most common mental retardation syndrome.”

The team’s findings were published in the November issue of the journal Developmental Cell.

This research was funded by the National Cancer Institute of Canada.