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Researchers confirm new cancer-causing virus
Date:11/15/2011

An important new study from the Laboratory for Developmental Genetics at USC has confirmed cytomegalovirus (CMV) as a cause of the most common salivary gland cancers. CMV joins a group of fewer than 10 identified oncoviruses cancer-causing viruses including HPV.

The findings, published online in the journal Experimental and Molecular Pathology over the weekend, are the latest in a series of studies by USC researchers that together demonstrate CMV's role as an oncovirus, a virus that can either trigger cancer in healthy cells or exploit mutant cell weaknesses to enhance tumor formation.

Lead author Michael Melnick, professor of developmental genetics in the Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC and Co-Director of the Laboratory for Developmental Genetics, said the conclusion that CMV is an oncovirus came after rigorous study of both human salivary gland tumors and salivary glands of postnatal mice.

CMV's classification as an oncovirus has important implications for human health. The virus, which has an extremely high prevalence in humans, can cause severe illness and death in patients with compromised immune systems and can cause birth defects if a woman is exposed to CMV for the first time while pregnant. It may also be connected to other cancers besides salivary gland cancer, Melnick added.

"CMV is incredibly common; most of us likely carry it because of our exposure to it," he said. "In healthy patients with normal immune systems, it becomes dormant and resides inactive in the salivary glands. No one knows what reactivates it."

This study illustrates not only that the CMV in the tumors is active but also that the amount of virus-created proteins found is positively correlated with the severity of the cancer, Melnick said.

Previous work with mice satisfied other important criteria needed to link CMV to cancer. After salivary glands obtained from newborn mice were exposed to purified CMV, cancer develop
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Contact: Suzanne Wu
suzanne.wu@usc.edu
213-740-0252
University of Southern California
Source:Eurekalert

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