NIH Press Release
National Institute of
General Medical Sciences

Thursday, Mar. 20, 1997
4:00 PM Eastern Time

Alisa Zapp
(301) 496-7301

Enzyme Research May Yield New Anticancer Drugs

Two papers in the March 21 issue of Science have potential applications for the design of new anticancer drugs. The same issue contains a Perspectives article on the two papers.

One paper, by Dr. Lorena Beese, Dr. Patrick Casey, and colleagues at Duke University, reports the detailed, three-dimensional structure of the rat enzyme farnesyltransferase (FTase), which shares 97% sequence identity with the human enzyme. Human FTase is considered a promising anticancer drug target by several pharmaceutical companies. The enzyme activates a protein known as Ras that is essential for life, but which in a mutant form is associated with up to a quarter of all cancers. Inhibition of FTase has been shown to shrink or eliminate Ras-induced cancers in mice without causing significant side effects. The reported structure, determined by x-ray crystallography, reveals details of FTase that may aid efforts to design human chemotherapy agents targeting the enzyme.

The second paper describes work by Dr. Jasper Rine and graduate student Victor Boyartchuk at the University of California, Berkeley, together with Dr. Matthew Ashby of Acacia Biosciences Incorporated in Richmond, CA. Working with yeast (a model organism that frequently reveals insights about human systems), the researchers report the discovery of two enzymes involved in chemically grooming proteins for their final function. One of the enzymes, called Rce1 protein, is necessary to activate Ras proteins. Inhibition of Rce1 protein appears to reduce but not eliminate Ras function, suggesting that a drug targeting Rce1 protein might be an effective chemotherapy agent.

The work reported in both papers was partially supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), a component of the National Institutes of Health that supports basic biomedical research.


Park H-W et al. Crystal Structure of Protein Farnesyltransferase at 2.25 Resolution. Science 1997; 275:1800-1804.

Boyartchuk VL, Ashby MN, Rine J. Modulation of Ras and a-Factor Function by Carboxyl-Terminal Proteolysis. Ibid., p. 1796-1800.

Gelb M. Protein Prenylation, et cetera: Signal Transduction in Two Dimensions. Ibid., p. 1750-51.

Dr. Lorena Beese, (919) 681-5267
Assistant Professor of Biochemistry
Department of Biochemistry
Duke University Medical Center
For scientific perspective on the Beese/Casey paper:
Dr. John Norvell, (301) 594-0533
Program Director
Division of Cell Biology
and Biophysics, NIGMS
Dr. Jasper Rine, (510) 642-7047
Professor of Genetics
Department of Molecular and Cell Biology
University of California, Berkeley
For scientific perspective on the Rine paper:
Dr. Jean Chin, (301) 594-0682
Program Director
Division of Cell Biology
and Biophysics, NIGMS