Phosphate in Proteins Is Removed at Different Speeds – University of Copenhagen

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07 December 2017

Phosphate in Proteins Is Removed at Different Speeds


Researchers have long agreed that dephosphorylation – the removal of phosphate from proteins in the cells – always took place at the same speed. But now researchers from the University of Copenhagen have shown that the process takes place at different speeds and that the choice of speed is vital to mitosis.

The proteins found in human cells are constantly regulated to activate or deactivate various functions. One of these is the removal of phosphate from the amino acids in the proteins. This process is called dephosphorylation. So far researchers have believed that the process takes place at more or less the same speed every time. 

But now researchers from the University of Copenhagen have shown that the process can take place at two different speeds, and that this is crucial to one of the most vital processes in the human body, namely mitosis.

‘So far everyone has believed that processes of dephosphorylation of the serines and threonines, respectively, were similar processes. But now we have shown that they are in fact different processes. The process involving serines is slow, while the process involving threonines is fast. We have shown that this difference in speed is very important. Because if the removal of phosphate is done in the wrong order, mitosis will fail, and the cells will die’, says Professor Jakob Nilsson from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research.

Stunts Cancer Tumours

Phosphatases are the enzymes responsible for dephosphorylation. In the study that was published in the latest issue of the scientific journal Nature Cell Biology the researchers have studied the phosphatase called PP2A. It is responsible for the majority of dephosphorylation processes in the human cells, and it plays a main role in cancer.

‘PP2A is a so-called tumour suppressor. It stunts the growth of cancer tumours. We hope this new knowledge of the general mechanism of PP2A can help cancer researchers learn why’, says Jakob Nilsson.

The researchers expect all dephosphorylation processes to take place at different speeds when it comes to the removal of phosphate from serine and threonine, respectively, but it will require more research. They also plan to do research into whether the speed affects related processes of other important diseases.

‘We know that the process that attaches phosphate to the proteins is important in connection with a range of diseases and biology in general. So of course it is natural to think that the process that removes phosphate from the proteins is equally relevant. We have only just begun to understand its significance’, says Jakob Nilsson.

Read the entire study: ‘Distinct kinetics of serine and threonine dephosphorylation are essential for mitosis’

Professor Jakob Nilsson
Phone: +45 35 32 50 53

Communications Officer Mathias Traczyk
Phone: + 45 93 56 58 35