AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 26, Number 4, 2017

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Researchers Define Structure of Key Enzyme Implicated in Cancer, Neurological Disease

A Stony Brook University-led team of researchers has determined the structure of a key enzyme involved with cell growth regulation in cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease. The finding reveals the first visualization of the enzyme and could provide insight into how the enzyme is activated. The enzyme, neutral sphingomyelinase (nSMase2), is one of the major enzymes that produces ceramide in the body. Ceramides are oil-like lipids that are produced in response to chemotherapy and other cell stresses. The ceramides that nSMase2 produces allow cancer cells to pass DNA and proteins to other cells to change their behavior. This plays a significant role in aiding the cancerous cells to spread into other regions as ceramides are produced. With this first visual of the structure of the enzyme, the researchers hope to understand how to de-activate the enzyme. Information on de-activating the enzyme could lead to a way to design cancer drugs that inhibit nSMase2.

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