A collaborative study by research groups from the VIB-UGent Center for Inflammation Research (http://www.vib.be/en/research/departments/Pages/VIB-UGent-Center-for-Inflammation-Research.aspx) and Ghent University uncovered a new mechanism causing colorectal cancer. The researchers found that abnormal expression of the protein Zeb2 (zinc finger E-box binding homeobox 2) affects the integrity of the intestinal wall or “epitheliu.” This epithelium normally functions as a barrier to prevent infiltration by intestinal microbes. Zeb2 undermines this barrier and allows infiltrating bacteria to cause inflammation that drives cancer progression. Importantly, the scientists demonstrated that manipulating the immune system or removing the microbiota can prevent the development of cancer. These findings may lead to new treatments and were published on June 15, 2020 in Nature Cancer (https://www.nature.com/articles/s43018-020-0070-2). The article is titled “Zeb2 Drives Invasive Aad Microbiota-Dependent Colon Carcinoma.” A collaboration between the research groups of Professor Geert van Loo, Professor Lars Vereecke, and Professor Geert Berx identified the protein Zeb2 as a possible cause of colorectal cancer. They showed that the abnormal expression of this protein in the epithelial cells of the gut in mice can induce colorectal cancer. Zeb2 destabilizes the integrity of the intestinal barrier which allows bacteria to infiltrate the tissue and provoke inflammatory reactions. This causes an abnormal proliferation of epithelial cells which ultimately leads to the development of malignant intestinal tumors. Importantly, by treating mice with broad-spectrum antibiotics to kill intestinal bacteria, or by raising mice in complete sterile conditions, cancer development could be completely prevented.
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