New Robarts researcher's discovery on cover o...

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New Robarts researcher's discovery on cover of Science LONDON, ON (Jan. 29, 1999) -- Today we are announcing an important discovery made by Robarts Researcher, Dr. Stephen Ferguson* and Dr. Louis Luttrell, from Duke University, that will impact our understanding of cellular events contributing to diseases such as Cancer and Congestive Heart Failure. The study coauthored by Drs. Ferguson and Luttrell is featured as the cover story in the January 29th, 1999 issue of the international scientific journal Science. Dr. Ferguson's landmark research focuses on how G protein-coupled receptor cell signalling pathways are inactivated and how that impacts diseases such as hypertension, stroke and heart failure. G protein-coupled receptors are located on the surface of a cell. They respond to stimuli such as a hormone or a photon of light (called a first messenger) and catalyze a series of protein-to-protein interactions (pathways) within the cell leading to the formation of second messengers that alter the function of a cell (ie. contraction of the heart). The importance of this G protein signalling pathway was highlighted by the awarding of the 1994 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine to Drs. Gilman and Rodbell. "Cell signalling, through a vast variety of G protein-coupled receptors, not only contributes directly to our ability to see, smell, taste and think", says Dr. Ferguson, "but regulates important cardiovascular functions. Alterations in their activity is often associated with disease." In diseases such as hypertension and congestive heart failure, signals mediated by G protein-coupled receptors are impaired or desensitized due to the increased activity of proteins that contribute to a negative feedback loop preventing the over-stimulation receptors. Dr. Ferguson explains: "What is most unique about our results is that we were able to show that a protein (b-arrestin) previously thought to inactivate a receptor, actually switches the function of the receptor, allowing it to signal like a growth factor receptor. The switching of G protein-coupled receptors to act like growth factor receptors likely contributes to the growth of the hearts in people with congestive heart failure and might even play a role in the ability of G protein-coupled receptors to promote cancer in experimental mouse models." Dr. Mark Poznansky, President and Scientific Director of the Robarts Research Institute, comments: "Science is one of three premier international scientific journals, and publishes findings that are of fundamental importance to a wide scientific readership. We are very pleased that Science has chosen to feature Drs. Ferguson and Luttrells' work on their cover. This work will change the way scientists think about receptor desensitization". This work was initiated in collaboration with Dr. Luttrell in the laboratory of Dr. Robert Lefkowitz, at the end of Dr. Ferguson's postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Dr. Marc Caron at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina. Dr. Ferguson joined the Neurodegeneration Research Group at Robarts Research Institute in September 1997. He is a molecular pharmacologist looking at how cells communicate with one another and their environment, and how changes in these processes contribute to disease.Robarts Research Institute was officially opened in 1986 and is Canada's only privately operated medical research facility. The Institute is comprised of some 365 highly qualified individuals, including scientists, hospital clinicians and technical specialists. They are actively researching many of the major causes of death and disability. *Dr. Ferguson is an Assistant Professor in the Departments of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Physiology and Clinical Pharmacology at The University of Western Ontario. For more information, please contact:Irene Posliff, Communications Officer, The John P. Robarts Research Institute; (519) 663-3021