Each cell in the human body contains 46 different chromosomes, large units of DNA that encode instructions for that cell to grow, divide, and carry out its specialized functions. During mitosis, when a cell divides, each of these chromosomes must be accurately distributed to the two new daughter cells. If this process occurs incorrectly for even a single chromosome, the resulting daughter cells will lose or gain thousands of genes and the instructions that they contain. This type of error in chromosome segregation can result in the death of the cell and is thought to contribute to tumorigenesis. Indeed, as many as 70% of tumors are observed to have abnormal numbers of chromosomes. To facilitate the segregation of DNA during mitosis, chromosomes must generate physical attachments to rod-like polymers termed microtubules that provide the structure and forces to move the chromosomes. Anti-mitotic drugs that disrupt the ability of these microtubules to connect with the chromosomes are routinely used for cancer chemotherapy. However, many of these drugs have deleterious secondary affects due to additional roles for microtubules in the nervous system. A key player in chromosome segregation is a large proteinaceous structure termed the kinetochore that forms the interface between the chromosomes and the microtubules. Inhibition of kinetochore activities is predicted target cancer cells while avoiding the dose-limiting neuronal toxicity associated with microtubule-binding chemotherapy drugs. Indeed, inhibitors against several kinetochore proteins are currently in clinical trials. Determining the specific activities of each human kinetochore protein is crucial to provide a context for their functions in chromosome segregation, to evaluate the best targets for the diagnosis and treatment of disease, and to generate assays suitable for the isolation of small molecule inhibitors. The proposed work will analyze the function and regulation of the human kinetochore proteins that are required to generate interactions with microtubules. This work will focus on two key, recently identified groups of kinetochore-associated proteins that bind to microtubule polymers directly. These studies will define the properties of these proteins and determine the mechanisms by which these proteins interact with microtubules, dissect their regulation by upstream kinases that control kinetochore-microtubule attachments, and examine their functions in human cells. In total, these studies will define the basis for kinetochore-microtubule interactions that will ultimately provide the foundation for experiments on the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Public Health Relevance

Defects in mitosis that result in errors in chromosome numbers can cause the death of a cell and are thought to contribute to tumor progression. Understanding the means by which these units of DNA, and the genetic information that they contain, are evenly distributed to new cells is critical for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. This proposed work will determine the mechanisms that direct and control chromosome segregation in human cells.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Research Project (R01)
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Nuclear Dynamics and Transport (NDT)
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Deatherage, James F
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Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
United States
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Cheeseman, Iain M (2014) The kinetochore. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol 6:a015826
McKinley, Kara L; Cheeseman, Iain M (2014) Polo-like kinase 1 licenses CENP-A deposition at centromeres. Cell 158:397-411
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