Researchers show Myc protein is cancer's 'volume control'

October 1, 2012

(Medical Xpress)—A protein called Myc, commonly found at high levels inside cancer cells, fuels the disease by allowing cells to override their in-built self-destruct mechanisms, according to two new studies by US scientists.

It does this by indiscriminately boosting the activity of any genes that are already active in the cell, rather than switching on particular , as previously thought.

The researchers - from the Whitehead Institute and the National Institutes of Health - say their findings explain the wide range effects the has been linked to. And they suggest that altering this effect could lead to new ways to treat cancer.

Tumours that have increased levels of Myc have long been linked to poor such as cancer spreading, or coming back after treatment.

Under normal circumstances, if levels of Myc get too high, immediately 'commit suicide' through a process called . But cancer cells find a way to side-step the self-destruct process to survive.

In the new studies, researchers artificially increased the levels of Myc inside different types of cells, and then analysed the cells' DNA to find out where it 'stuck' - in other words which genes it had switched on.

They found that Myc was able to bind to DNA at a wide variety of sites across the , and that where it bound was determined by which genes were already active.

Dr Victoria Cowling, a Cancer Research UK-funded expert on Myc from the University of Dundee, said: "Myc increases the rate at which cells grow and divide, and when Myc levels increase it contributes to the development of almost all human tumour types.

"This comprehensive work confirms what other research has hinted at - that there may be a unifying explanation for the many effects Myc has in ."

Professor Richard Young from the Whitehead Institute said Myc was a "key driver" in a majority of cancers, but had so far proved difficult to target with drugs.

He added: "Now that we know the mechanism by which Myc acts, we can go after the components of that mechanism as potential drug targets. This research creates an even stronger impetus to find a way to drug the thing."

Dr Keji Zhao from National Institutes of Health, who worked on the second study, said their work shows that Myc is not a "power switch" but more "like the volume control of a music player".

Cancer Research UK's Dr Cowling said: "Rather than switching a specific set of gene targets on or off, Myc could be more like a volume control that amplifies the levels of all genes that are already active in cells."

She said the new research is likely to focus attention back on potential therapies that block Myc itself rather than its targets.

The results from both research projects are published in the journal Cell.

Explore further: Major cancer protein amplifies global gene expression

More information: Lin, C., Lovén, J., Rahl, P., Paranal, R., Burge, C., Bradner, J., Lee, T. & Young, R. (2012). Transcriptional Amplification in Tumor Cells with Elevated c-Myc, Cell, 151 (1) 67. DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2012.08.026

Related Stories

Major cancer protein amplifies global gene expression

September 27, 2012
Scientists may have discovered why a protein called MYC can provoke a variety of cancers. Like many proteins associated with cancer, MYC helps regulate cell growth. A study carried out by researchers at the National Institutes ...

Aggressive cancer exploits MYC oncogene to amplify global gene activity

September 27, 2012
Whitehead Institute researchers have determined the mechanism used by c-Myc to increase the expression of all active genes in cancer cells. Elevated levels of c-Myc are linked to increased rates of metastasis, disease recurrence, ...

Lymphoma therapy could deliver a double punch

April 30, 2012
B cell lymphomas are a group of cancers of that originate in lymphoid tissue from B cells, the specialized immune cell type that produces antibodies. The development of B cell lymphoma is associated with several known genetic ...

Protein may represent a switch to turn off B cell lymphoma

May 7, 2012
Researchers studying the molecular signals that drive a specific type of lymphoma have discovered a key biological pathway leading to this type of cancer. Cancerous cells have been described as being "addicted" to certain ...

Recommended for you

Alternative splicing, an important mechanism for cancer

September 22, 2017
Cancer, which is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, arises from the disruption of essential mechanisms of the normal cell life cycle, such as replication control, DNA repair and cell death. Thanks to the advances ...

'Labyrinth' chip could help monitor aggressive cancer stem cells

September 21, 2017
Inspired by the Labyrinth of Greek mythology, a new chip etched with fluid channels sends blood samples through a hydrodynamic maze to separate out rare circulating cancer cells into a relatively clean stream for analysis. ...

Drug combination may improve impact of immunotherapy in head and neck cancer

September 21, 2017
Checkpoint inhibitor-based immunotherapy has been shown to be very effective in recurrent and metastatic head and neck cancer but only in a minority of patients. University of California San Diego School of Medicine researchers ...

Whole food diet may help prevent colon cancer, other chronic conditions

September 21, 2017
A diet that includes plenty of colorful vegetables and fruits may contain compounds that can stop colon cancer and inflammatory bowel diseases in pigs, according to an international team of researchers. Understanding how ...

New kinase detection method helps identify targets for developing cancer drugs

September 21, 2017
Purdue University researchers have developed a high-throughput method for matching kinases to the proteins they phosphorylate, speeding the ability to identify multiple potential cancer drug targets.

Brain cancer growth halted by absence of protein, study finds

September 20, 2017
The growth of certain aggressive brain tumors can be halted by cutting off their access to a signaling molecule produced by the brain's nerve cells, according to a new study by researchers at the Stanford University School ...

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.