Press Releases

DATE2023.09.04 #Press Releases

Killing cancer cells


Researchers visualize how accumulation of a protein in mitochondria regulates cancer cell death. 


Sep 04, 2023   


Cancer cells replicate rapidly and often resist cell death or apoptosis. Understanding how cancer cells regulate apoptosis could help us better treat cancer. Compared to healthy cells, most cancer cells have a large amount of a protein called telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT). It accumulates in mitochondria during oxidative stress, a cue that induces cell death. But whether this accumulation under oxidative stress promotes or inhibits cell death has been unclear until now. 


Researchers from the University of Tokyo attached a fluorescent protein to TERT to visualize its position in the cell under a microscope after introducing the protein in cancer cells and inducing oxidative stress. When the TERT protein accumulated inside the mitochondria, the cells died within 2 hours. So, they propose that the accumulation of TERT inside mitochondria determines cell death during the initial response to oxidative stress. But at the later stages of the cell’s response to oxidative stress, the cells that retained TERT outside, rather than inside, mitochondria die faster. Depending on the stage of cell death, TERT accumulation has two opposing effects on cell death. Targeting the accumulation of TERT at a suitable stage could help improve the efficacy of cancer treatment.


Figure. Cell death regulation by TERT accumulation in mitochondria. 


Video. Simultaneous imaging of TERT (yellow) accumulation in mitochondria (red) and cell death process (cyan). 


For more details, please read the article:   

Hiroshi Ebata, Tomohiro Shima, Ryo Iizuka, Sotaro Uemura. 2023. Accumulation of TERT in Mitochondria Exerts Two Opposing Effects on Apoptosis. FEBS Open Bio. DOI:  10.1002/2211-5463.13682