Pathogenic bacteria are capable of developing extremely efficient mechanism of causing and spreading diseases. Researchers from the University of Freiburg have managed to uncover the molecular mechanism of a certain fish toxin which they believe could serve as medication in cancer treatment.

Can Fish Toxin Treat Cancer? Details About The Pathogen And Toxin

Pathogens of the Yersinia species are known to cause the bubonic plague and severe infections of the gastrointestinal tract. Pharmacologist Dr Thomas Jank, along with his fellow researchers in a research led by Professor Dr Klaus Aktories at the University of Freiburg studied one of the pathogens from this family – Yersinia ruckeri. It was discovered that these pathogens causes a disease known as ‘redmouth’ in fishes from the Salmonidae family, such as trout and salmon. This eventually results in huge financial losses to the fish industry.

The researchers identified a toxin injection machine in the genome of Y. ruckeri. The structure of this injection machine is quite similar to viruses that generally attach bacteria. It was observed that the injected toxin – Afp18 – was actually an enzyme involved in deactivating the switch protein RhoA which plays a vital role in regulating various processes in humans and fish. One of these processes includes the controlling of the build-up and break down of actin filaments – responsible for cell division and spreading tumor metastases in the body.

Putting The Toxin To Test

Working in collaboration with Developmental Biologist Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Driever from the University of Freiburg, the research team injected Afp18 into the embryos of zebra fish. As a result, cell division was blocked and the embryos did not develop. In other words, the toxin caused actin filaments to collapse.

The rather unusual mechanism behind the toxin was studied at the atomic level via X-ray analysis of the Afp18-modified RhoA crystals. Together with Professor Dr Daan von Aalten from the University of Dundee, Scotland, it was observed that Afp18 attaches a sugar molecule, an N-acetylglucosamine, onto the amino acid tyrosine in RhoA.

Rho-regulatory proteins play a role in cancer development, particularly metastasis. Due to this, the team believes that this fish toxin possesses tremendous therapeutic potential in treating cancer. The research was recently published in the journal Nature Communications.