Cell proliferation is the process whereby cells reproduce themselves by growing and then dividing into two equal copies. Growth factors employ a range of growth factor signalling pathways to activate cells to enter the cell cycle. In most cases, proliferation is mediated by growth factors operating within a highly localized environment so that only those cells in the immediate vicinity are instructed to grow. To understand how growth factors control cell proliferation, we have to consider both the nature of the signalling mechanisms and how they impinge upon the cell cycle machinery that regulates cell growth and cell division. One of the most active areas of cell signalling concerns this growth factor signalling/cell cycle interface.
An analysis of the information flow during proliferative signalling reveals that there is a complex interplay between different signalling mechanisms operating throughout the early phase of the cell cycle. In order to activate cell proliferation, growth factors have to do two things. They have to induce cells to enter the cell cycle and they also function in cell growth control by increasing cell mass through an increase in macromolecular biosynthesis. The integrity of the genome is maintained by a process of checkpoint signalling that operates to arrest the cell cycle in response to DNA damage.
Proliferation is most evident during development, when the single-celled zygote begins many rounds of growth and division to make up the cell mass of the developing organism. As the adult organism is formed, many cells stop growing when they differentiate to perform their specialized functions. In the case of neurons and muscle, this growth arrest is permanent, but, for many other cells, this arrest is temporary in that they retain the option of growing again to replace cells that are lost either through normal processes of wear and tear or through damage. There are many examples of such proliferation of specific cell types.
Interest in the signalling pathways that regulate cell proliferation increased when it became apparent that these were altered in many forms of cancer. These signalling pathways also control tumour angiogenesis. Very often, key components of the signalling pathways are proto-oncogenes that become constitutively active to function as oncogenes. Many of the tumour suppressors function as negative regulators of growth factor-mediated signalling pathways. Changes in these proliferative control mechanisms are also relevant to other diseased states, such as atherosclerosis, psoriasis, hypertension and polycystic kidney disease.
- © 2014 Portland Press Limited