Molecular switch identified that controls key cellular process

August 1, 2012

The body has a built-in system known as autophagy, or 'self-eating,' that controls how cells live or die. Deregulation of autophagy is linked to the development of human diseases, including neural degeneration and cancer.

In a study published online this week in the , scientists at the Ludwig Institute for in Oxford discovered a critical molecular switch that regulates . They also studied the links between autophagy and a cellular process called senescence that stops cell growth permanently.

The researchers identified ASPP2, a , as a that can dictate the ability of a common , known as the , to either stop or promote senescence.

As Yihua Wang and researchers in Xin Lu's group at the Ludwig Institute investigated the life cycle of – the most common connective tissue cells in animals – they found that reduced levels of the ASPP2 protein increase RAS oncogene-induced autophagic activity. This in turn prevented cells from entering senescence. Without ASPP2, the cells continued to proliferate unchecked, thereby promoting tumor growth.

ASPP2 is known to play a role in suppressing tumor development. Mice that have a deficiency or malfunction in this protein have a predisposition to developing tumors. And low ASPP2 levels in patients are linked to poor prognoses in cancers, such as large B-cell lymphomas. Reduced ASPP2 expression has also been observed in highly metastatic breast tumors. But until now, researchers did not understand why.

"We found that in the presence of the common cancer-causing RAS oncogene, ASPP2 interacted with a protein complex that is responsible for deciding cell fate via autophagy," said Yihua Wang, PhD, Ludwig researcher in Oxford.

"What this means is that the cell's emergency stop button is disabled when ASPP2 expression is reduced or lost, allowing it to proliferate unchecked as with cancer," added Wang.

"The balance between the RAS oncogene and ASPP2 activity is crucial to determining whether or not tumor growth is promoted. Our next step will be to identify ways to alter ASPP2 activity at that critical switch point. This could be an effective way to treat cancers with reduced ASPP2 expression and mutated RAS, such as breast and colon cancers," concluded Wang.

"Some of the recently developed anti-cancer drugs are potent inducers of autophagy. The new findings may also offer an explanation as to why patient response to these drugs can vary dramatically. There are factors at play within the body that can dictate authophagic activity and impact clinical outcomes," said Xin Lu, PhD, director of Ludwig's Oxford Branch. "While further study is needed, these findings may in the longer term help doctors to identify patients who are more likely to respond well to autophagic inhibition," added Lu.

Explore further: New study identifies novel role for PEA-15 protein in cancer growth

Related Stories

New study identifies novel role for PEA-15 protein in cancer growth

November 21, 2011
A new study from the University of Hawaii Cancer Center reveals that PEA-15, a protein previously shown to slow ovarian tumor growth and metastasis, can alternatively enhance tumor formation in kidney cells carrying a mutation ...

How aging normal cells fuel tumor growth and metastasis

June 14, 2012
It has long been known that cancer is a disease of aging, but a molecular link between the two has remained elusive.

Specific inhibition of autophagy may represent a new concept for treatment of kidney cancer

April 16, 2012
New research at the University of Cincinnati (UC) suggests that kidney cancer growth depends on autophagy, a complex process that can provide cells with nutrients from intracellular sources. Researchers say in certain circumstances ...

Recommended for you

Female mouse embryos actively remove male reproductive systems

August 17, 2017
A protein called COUP-TFII determines whether a mouse embryo develops a male reproductive tract, according to researchers at the National Institutes of Health and their colleagues at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston. The ...

New technique overcomes genetic cause of infertility

August 17, 2017
Scientists have created healthy offspring from genetically infertile male mice, offering a potential new approach to tackling a common genetic cause of human infertility.

New Pathology Atlas maps genes in cancer to accelerate progress in personalized medicine

August 17, 2017
A new Pathology Atlas is launched today with an analysis of all human genes in all major cancers showing the consequence of their corresponding protein levels for overall patient survival. The difference in expression patterns ...

Two-step process leads to cell immortalization and cancer

August 17, 2017
A mutation that helps make cells immortal is critical to the development of a tumor, but new research at the University of California, Berkeley suggests that becoming immortal is a more complicated process than originally ...

Inhibiting a protein found to reduce progression of Alzheimer's and ALS in mice

August 17, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers with Genetech Inc. and universities in Hamburg and San Francisco has found that inhibiting the creation of a protein leads to a reduction in the progression of Alzheimer's disease ...

Are stem cells the link between bacteria and cancer?

August 17, 2017
Gastric carcinoma is one of the most common causes of cancer-related deaths, primarily because most patients present at an advanced stage of the disease. The main cause of this cancer is the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.