Cancer-killing cells controlled by epigenetic process, new study shows

September 23, 2013

Natural killer (NK) cells in the human body can kill and contain viruses and cancerous tumors, and a new study from the University of Southern California (USC) describes for the first time how those cells can be manipulated by epigenetics. The discovery, detailed in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, paves the way for developing more effective cancer drugs.

"Natural killer cells are very attractive targets for immunotherapy because they are able to kill ," said Si-Yi Chen, M.D., Ph.D., a faculty member of the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and senior author of the study. "While scientists all around the world are working on developing new drugs using NK cells, none of the drugs in development focuses on epigenetic regulation of the cells. Our study describes how an epigenetic process involving the enzyme MYSM1 plays a critical role in the development of ."

Epigenetics involve biochemical changes in the body that directly affect DNA, turning some genes on and turning others off. MYSM1 is an enzyme in the body's immune system that turns genes on and off by modifying proteins called histones embedded in DNA.

Through a series of experiments in mice, Chen and his colleagues demonstrate that MYSM1 is required for natural killer cells to mature and function properly.

"We found that MYSM1 creates access to proteins that enhance and, ultimately, the maturation of natural killer cells themselves," said Vijayalakshmi Nandakumar, a Ph.D. student at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the study's first author. "To date, there are no elaborate reports linking an epigenetic phenomenon to natural killer cell development. More importantly, unlike conventional therapies, NK cell-based therapies have shown to be more effective against metastasis. We believe targeting this pathway could be a viable option for future immunotherapies."

Explore further: Cocktail boosts immune cells in fighting cancer

More information: Nandakumar, V., Chou, Y.C., Zang, L., Huang, X.F., & Chen, S.Y. (2013). Epigenetic control of NK cell maturation by histone H2A deubiquitinase MYSM1. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition, 1-11. Published online Sept. 23, 2013; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1308888110

Related Stories

Cocktail boosts immune cells in fighting cancer

December 6, 2012
Natural killer cells, as part of the body´s immune system, can effectively fight cancer. Unfortunately, they quickly lose their aggressiveness and hence are unable to reject solid tumors. Scientists from the German Cancer ...

Overactive immune response blocks itself

July 26, 2013
As part of the innate immune system natural killer cells (NK cells) play an important role in immune responses. For a long time they have been known as the first line of defense in the fight against infectious diseases. Therefore, ...

New study points to potential new therapies for cancer and other diseases

November 27, 2012
Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute (TRSI) are fueling the future of cancer treatment by improving a powerful tool in disease defense: the body's immune system. By revealing a novel but widespread cell signaling ...

Between B cells and T cells

July 23, 2013
Mature cells develop through a number of immature stages. During this process, they must remember the specialization they are committed to. For immune system B cells, Rudolf Grosschedl of the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology ...

Fighting cancer with the immune system

June 11, 2012
The human immune system has a natural ability to identify and attack tumor cells. Natural killer (NK) cells are innate immune cells that are particularly effective at killing tumor cells due to their ability to secrete cytotoxic ...

Recommended for you

Want to win at sports? Take a cue from these mighty mice

July 20, 2017
As student athletes hit training fields this summer to gain the competitive edge, a new study shows how the experiences of a tiny mouse can put them on the path to winning.

A sodium surprise: Engineers find unexpected result during cardiac research

July 20, 2017
Irregular heartbeat—or arrhythmia—can have sudden and often fatal consequences. A biomedical engineering team at Washington University in St. Louis examining molecular behavior in cardiac tissue recently made a surprising ...

Engineered liver tissue expands after transplant

July 19, 2017
Many diseases, including cirrhosis and hepatitis, can lead to liver failure. More than 17,000 Americans suffering from these diseases are now waiting for liver transplants, but significantly fewer livers are available.

Lunatic Fringe gene plays key role in the renewable brain

July 19, 2017
The discovery that the brain can generate new cells - about 700 new neurons each day - has triggered investigations to uncover how this process is regulated. Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Jan and Dan Duncan ...

'Smart' robot technology could give stroke rehab a boost

July 19, 2017
Scientists say they have developed a "smart" robotic harness that might make it easier for people to learn to walk again after a stroke or spinal cord injury.

New animal models for hepatitis C could pave the way for a vaccine

July 19, 2017
They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In the case of hepatitis C—a disease that affects nearly 71 million people worldwide, causing cirrhosis and liver cancer if left untreated—it might be worth ...

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.