Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine have published a study that offers a new understanding of a protein critical to physiological processes involved in major diseases such as diabetes and cancer. This work could help scientists design drugs to battle these disorders. The article was deemed a "Paper of the Week" by the Journal of Biological Chemistry and will be featured on the cover of that journal. The article is scheduled for publication in the May 20, 2011 issue and is now available online. "This study applied a powerful protein structural analysis approach to investigate how a chemical signal called cAMP turns on one of its protein switches, Epac2," said principal investigator Dr. Xiaodong Cheng, professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and member of the Sealy Center for Structural Biology and Molecular Biophysics at UTMB. The cAMP molecule controls many physiological processes, ranging from learning and memory in the brain and contractility and relaxation in the heart to insulin secretion in the pancreas. cAMP exerts its action in cells by binding to and switching on specific receptor proteins, which, when activated by cAMP, turn on additional signaling pathways. Errors in cell signaling are responsible for diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and heart failure. Understanding cAMP-mediated cell signaling, in which Epac2 is a major player, likely will facilitate the development of new therapeutic strategies specifically targeting the cAMP-Epac2 signaling components, according to the researchers. The project involved an ongoing collaboration between Dr. Cheng's research group at UTMB, experts in the study of cAMP signaling, and UCSD professor of medicine Virgil Woods Jr.
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