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Kinetochore junction

Proteins that keep chromosomes on track during cell division offer clues to how cancer develops

To many, a cell is just a cell - a microscopic thing our bodies have millions of. But to Kenneth Kaplan, a cell is something to study. Something to model. Something to marvel. It is, after all, the structural building block of all living organisms

Kaplan gives you fair warning about his interest in all things cellular. He could talk about cells for hours

"It's fascinating. A cell does a lot of cool stuff," said Kaplan, an assistant professor of molecular and cellular biology. "Things move around in it. I want to know how it works, what is the basis for it and what pieces go into making a cell function."

Tumors develop from multiple things going wrong over time. Kaplan's work focuses on what goes wrong with chromosomes during mitosis.

Chromosomes package genetic information. A normal human cell contains 23 pairs, or 46 chromosomes. Through the process of mitosis a mother cell gives birth to two identical daughter cells, replicating the number of chromosomes in each daughter cell.
"It's critical. If they don't do that equally, then one cell is going to be in trouble," Kaplan said. "Potentially both will be in trouble because they will either have too much or too little genetic information. It's such a fundamental process. All cells have to segregate genetic information between mother and daughters. This rarely fails in healthy people, but it fails a lot in people with cancer."

Specifically, Kaplan is researching the role of kinetochores, a series of proteins assembled on the chromosomes that bind to DNA and shuffle the chromosomes around on microtubules, fiber-like tracks in the cell. Microtubules are the railroad tracks and the kinetochores are the motors that move the chromosomes around on those tracks during mitosis, Kaplan explained.


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Supporting Cancer Center
UC Davis Cancer CenterUC Davis Health System

Molecular and cell biologist Ken Kaplan wants to understand how disruptions in kinetochore formation and function lead to the development of tumors.