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New role for gene that counteracts formation of tumors


Scientists from the Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) have achieved a new breakthrough in cancer research. The researchers, connected to Ghent University, have discovered the function of an important mediator involved in suppressing the development of tumors. Using a mouse model, they have shown that absence of the mediator makes the mice susceptible to the development of cancer. Through this research, the scientists are contributing to a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms that control tumor development.

Cell cycle: a vital, controlled process in our body

Every day, the billions of cells that compose our body are being replaced: old cells die and new ones are produced. In the course of this process, each cell goes through a well-organized series of phases. First of all, the hereditary material, or DNA, in the cell nucleus is duplicated. Next, the nucleus divides itself in half; and then the entire cell divides, and the daughter cells grow into completely new cells. Because it is crucial that this cell cycle runs perfectly, various control points have been built in to enable the cell to control the stability of the DNA. If the DNA becomes damaged, the cell cycle will come to a stop.

A central role for the p53 protein in cancer

The p53 protein is responsible for stopping the cell cycle. Normally, this happens at the end of the growth phase - but, if the DNA has been damaged or if other problems arise, p53 can also trigger programmed cell death.

Because p53 can halt the further growth of cells, this protein plays an essential role in suppressing the development of tumors and blocking the onset of cancer. When cancer appears, the p53 protein is deactivated - either through an alteration or mutation in the gene itself, or through modified activity of the proteins that regulate p53 or that influence its activity.

Ptprv, a new target for p53

Research by Gilles Doumont, Alain Martoriati and their colleagues from the team of Jean-Christophe Marine has revealed that the protein Ptprv works with p53. In certain circumstances, p53 directly influences the production of Ptprv. In the case of DNA damage, Ptprv turns out to play a key role in stopping the cell cycle and also contributes to blocking the development of tumors. This important role for Ptprv has been demonstrated using mouse models. Although the Ghent researchers have elucidated its role in the development of cancer, the actual function of Ptprv has not yet been discovered.

Does Ptprv open new perspectives for the treatment of cancer?

After exposure to carcinogens, mice that lack Ptprv develop cancer much more readily than normal mice do. The findings of the Ghent researchers show that Ptprv is an essential player in preventing and counteracting cancer. Further research can reveal whether Ptprv can be a potential point of action for the treatment of cancer.

Ann Van Gysel | EurekAlert!
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