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Novel reprogramming mechanism for tumour cells discovered

December 5, 2011 - London

Scientists have identified a Protein that regulates the expression of hundreds of genes that have a crucial role in the progression of Pancreatic cancer, gliomas and possibly many other kinds of tumor.

Raul Mendez from the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) and Pilar Navarro at the IMIM (Institut de Recerca Hospital del Mar, Barcelona) have identified the Protein CPEB4 as a "cellular orchestra conductor" that "activates" hundreds of genes associated with Tumour growth.

"The peculiarity is that it would not only be the mutation of a specific gene that promotes Tumour growth but the expression of a Protein in an incorrect site that "triggers" hundreds of messenger molecules (mRNAs), which transmit gene information for the synthesis of proteins, without these genes being mutated," Mendez said.

"This process leads to the expression of many "normal" genes but in unsuitable amounts and times that more greatly resemble early embryonic developmental stages rather than the stages of adult organ development," he said.

One of the conclusions highlighted in the study is that in the tissues examined, pancreas and brain, CPEB4 is not detected in healthy cells but only in Tumour ones.

According to Navarro, the inhibition of this Protein would provide a highly specific anti-Tumour treatment and with few adverse effects, "one of the main drawbacks of many cancer therapies."

Using experiments involving human cancer cells in mice, these researchers have demonstrated that the decrease in CPEB4 levels in cancer cells reduces the size of Tumours by up to 80 percent.

Although the study is limited to two kinds of Tumour, according to the co-authors, "given the effects observed in the Tumours examined and the type of genes regulated by this mechanism, it is expected to be involved in many other types of cancer."

The study has been recently published in Nature Medicine.


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