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Genomic- and proteomic-scale analyses are part of systems biology. Systems biology is the study of whole biological systems (genomes and proteomes) based on interactions within the system. The European Bioinformatics Institute and the Human Proteome Organization (HUPO) are developing and establishing effective tools to sort through the enormous pile of systems biology data. Because proteins are the direct products of genes and reflect activity at the genomic level, it is natural to use proteomes to compare the protein profiles of different cells to identify proteins and genes involved in disease processes. Most pharmaceutical drug trials target proteins. Information obtained from proteomics is being used to identify novel drugs and understand their mechanisms of action.

In two-hybrid screening, the binding domain of a transcription factor is separated from the activator domain. A bait protein is attached to the DNA-binding domain of a transcription factor, and a prey protein is attached to the activator domain. If the prey catches the bait (in other words, binds to it), transcription of a reporter gene occurs. If the prey does not catch the bait, no transcription occurs. Scientists use this transcriptional activation to determine if interaction between the bait and prey has occurred.
Two-hybrid screening is used to determine whether two proteins interact. In this method, a transcription factor is split into a DNA-binding domain (BD) and an activator domain (AD). The binding domain is able to bind the promoter in the absence of the activator domain, but it does not turn on transcription. A protein called the bait is attached to the BD, and a protein called the prey is attached to the AD. Transcription occurs only if the prey “catches” the bait.

The challenge of techniques used for proteomic analyses is the difficulty in detecting small quantities of proteins. Although mass spectrometry is good for detecting small amounts of proteins, variations in protein expression in diseased states can be difficult to discern. Proteins are naturally unstable molecules, which makes proteomic analysis much more difficult than genomic analysis.

Cancer proteomics

Genomes and proteomes of patients suffering from specific diseases are being studied to understand the genetic basis of the disease. The most prominent disease being studied with proteomic approaches is cancer. Proteomic approaches are being used to improve screening and early detection of cancer; this is achieved by identifying proteins whose expression is affected by the disease process. An individual protein is called a biomarker    , whereas a set of proteins with altered expression levels is called a protein signature    . For a biomarker or protein signature to be useful as a candidate for early screening and detection of a cancer, it must be secreted in body fluids, such as sweat, blood, or urine, such that large-scale screenings can be performed in a non-invasive fashion. The current problem with using biomarkers for the early detection of cancer is the high rate of false-negative results. A false negative    is an incorrect test result that should have been positive. In other words, many cases of cancer go undetected, which makes biomarkers unreliable. Some examples of protein biomarkers used in cancer detection are CA-125 for ovarian cancer and PSA for prostate cancer. Protein signatures may be more reliable than biomarkers to detect cancer cells. Proteomics is also being used to develop individualized treatment plans, which involves the prediction of whether or not an individual will respond to specific drugs and the side effects that the individual may experience. Proteomics is also being used to predict the possibility of disease recurrence.

The National Cancer Institute has developed programs to improve the detection and treatment of cancer. The Clinical Proteomic Technologies for Cancer and the Early Detection Research Network are efforts to identify protein signatures specific to different types of cancers. The Biomedical Proteomics Program is designed to identify protein signatures and design effective therapies for cancer patients.

Section summary

Proteomics is the study of the entire set of proteins expressed by a given type of cell under certain environmental conditions. In a multicellular organism, different cell types will have different proteomes, and these will vary with changes in the environment. Unlike a genome, a proteome is dynamic and in constant flux, which makes it both more complicated and more useful than the knowledge of genomes alone.

Proteomics approaches rely on protein analysis; these techniques are constantly being upgraded. Proteomics has been used to study different types of cancer. Different biomarkers and protein signatures are being used to analyze each type of cancer. The future goal is to have a personalized treatment plan for each individual.

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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