A fine balancing act: A delicate kinase-phosphatase equilibrium that protects against chromosomal instability and cancer

Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2018 Mar:96:148-156. doi: 10.1016/j.biocel.2017.10.017. Epub 2017 Nov 3.


Cancer cells rewire signalling networks to acquire specific hallmarks needed for their proliferation, survival, and dissemination throughout the body. Although this is often associated with the constitutive activation or inactivation of protein phosphorylation networks, there are other contexts when the dysregulation must be much milder. For example, chromosomal instability is a widespread cancer hallmark that relies on subtle defects in chromosome replication and/or division, such that these processes remain functional, but nevertheless error-prone. In this article, we will discuss how perturbations to the delicate kinase-phosphatase balance could lie at the heart of this type of dysregulation. In particular, we will explain how the two principle mechanisms that safeguard the chromosome segregation process rely on an equilibrium between at least two kinases and two phosphatases to function correctly. This balance is set during mitosis by a central complex that has also been implicated in chromosomal instability - the BUB1/BUBR1/BUB3 complex - and we will put forward a hypothesis that could link these two findings. This could be relevant for cancer treatment because most tumours have evolved by pushing the boundaries of chromosomal instability to the limit. If this involves subtle changes to the kinase-phosphatase equilibrium, then it may be possible to exacerbate these defects and tip tumour cells over the edge, whilst still maintaining the viability of healthy cells.

Keywords: Cancer; Kinase and phosphatase regulaton; Kinetochore; Mitosis; Spindle assembly checkpoint.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chromosomal Instability*
  • Chromosome Segregation
  • Chromosomes, Human / genetics
  • Chromosomes, Human / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Proteins / genetics
  • Neoplasm Proteins / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / enzymology*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Phosphoprotein Phosphatases / genetics
  • Phosphoprotein Phosphatases / metabolism*
  • Phosphorylation / genetics
  • Protein Kinases / genetics
  • Protein Kinases / metabolism*


  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • Protein Kinases
  • Phosphoprotein Phosphatases