College of Graduate Studies
Cell Regulation/Signal Transduction
Cell signaling refers to the process by which extracellular substances produce an intracellular response. This is an essential and widespread biological phenomenon by which hormones, neurotransmitters, and other agents regulate cellular function. In some cases, the agent inducing the response is present on the surface of a nearby cell, or is present in the extracellular matrix on which cells reside. Most drugs and environmental agents exert their effects by affecting signaling pathways. Thus, the study of signal transduction mechanisms is a major focus in many fields of biomedical research, including pharmacology, toxicology, pharmaceutical sciences, immunology, biochemistry, and pathology. Significantly, many of the recent breakthroughs in drug development stem from basic studies on signaling molecules. Current studies in this area use of state-of-the-art experimental approaches utilizing molecular biology, genomics, proteomics, cell biology, and animal studies.
Many research opportunities related to cell signaling mechanisms, including basic signaling processes and aberrant signaling mechanisms related to disease states, exist at MUSC. One of the fundamental processes regulated through signal transduction mechanisms is cell growth. In large part, cancer is caused by alterations in the normal regulatory processes of cells.
The abnormal behavior of neoplastic cells can often be traced to an alteration in:
- cellular signaling mechanisms, such as receptor or cytoplasmic tyrosine kinases
- levels of specific growth factors
- intracellular processes for conveying membrane signals to the nucleus
- portions of the transcription apparatus
- interactions of cells with extracellular matrix
- genes involved in the cell cycle and the regulation of DNA replication
Thus, cancer biology is a major area for signal transduction research at MUSC.
In addition to the cancer emphasis mentioned above, cellular signal transduction mechanisms are being intensively investigated by MUSC faculty who study cardiovascular regulation. Treatment of heart and vascular diseases involves the use of drugs that target specific events in cellular signaling. One of the goals of signal transduction research is to identify novel targets for therapeutic intervention in human disease. Another goal is to better understand the action of therapies that are already in use, so that more effective and specific therapies can be designed in the future. Research conducted by MUSC faculty in the Cancer Biology Program extends from studying the initiation and development of cancer to its prevention and treatment.