Stress Response Protein (HSF1) Links Inflammatory Disease to Colon Cancer; Findings Might Help Identify Those at Extra Risk for This Cancer and Develop Means of Prevention

Inflammation promotes some of the deadliest cancers. In the colon, inflammatory bowel disease is well known to be associated with higher-than-average rates of malignancy. Nevertheless, the developing tumor is commonly diagnosed only when it has already advanced or even metastasized, possibly because the early symptoms of malignancy are often mistakenly ascribed to a flare-up of intestinal inflammation. Weizmann Institute of Science researchers have now revealed a molecular missing link between chronic gut inflammation and cancer. This revelation may help develop ways of preventing colon cancers in people with inflammatory diseases of the intestines. The results were published online on December 7, 2020 in Nature Communications ( The open-access article is titled “Heat Shock Factor 1-Dependent Extracellular Matrix Remodeling Mediates the Transition from Chronic Intestinal Inflammation to Colon Cancer." Ruth Scherz-Shouval (photo) (, PhD, of the Biomolecular Sciences Department hypothesized that the path from chronic bowel disease to cancer winds through the stress response to inflammation within the intestinal cells. She focused on heat shock factor 1 (HSF1), a protein that triggers cellular changes in just such instances of stress and strain on the cells. In earlier work, Dr. Scherz-Shouval had found that HSF1 causes supporting cells called fibroblasts to start assisting the progression of cancer in their vicinity. In the new research, Dr. Scherz-Shouval and her team asked whether this process begins even before cancer is seen—i.e., in colon inflammation that eventually leads to colon cancer.
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