Researchers Find Clue to Altered Protein Production in Skin Cancer; Result May Point to Potential Therapeutic Intervention

Each cell in the body follows a strict protocol for manufacturing the proteins it needs to function. When a cell turns cancerous, however, its protein production goes off script. A new study led by researchers at The Rockefeller University takes a close look at one way in which this procedure goes haywire in skin cells as they turn cancerous. "A cell's identity depends on the levels of proteins it produces, and these can be altered by changes in the way proteins are translated from genetic instructions," says senior author Elaine Fuchs (photo), Ph.D., the Rebecca C. Lancefield Professor and Head of the Robin Chemers Neustein Laboratory of Mammalian Cell Biology and Development at The Rockefeler. "Changes in translation appear to be particularly important as normal stem cells become malignant, and our new experiments detail the control mechanisms behind a shift that occurs just prior to the development of skin cancer," adds Dr. Fuchs, who is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator. The research, which identifies a potential avenue for future cancer treatments, was described online in Nature on January 11, 2017. The article is titled “Translation from Unconventional 5′ Start Sites Drives Tumor Initiation.” In order to function, cells need to turn instructions encoded in their DNA into protein. They do so in two major steps: first, DNA is transcribed into a molecule called messenger RNA, which is then translated into protein. Certain cancerous tumors are known to contain an unusual ratio of protein to messenger RNA, however, which suggests translation is altered in cancer. Using mice, the research team explored changes in translation that occur as the animals develop a common type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma.
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