National Institutes of Health (NIH) researchers have identified a gene that suppresses tumor growth in melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. The finding is reported today in the journal Nature Genetics as part of a systematic genetic analysis of a group of enzymes implicated in skin cancer and many other types of cancer.
The NIH analysis found that one-quarter of human melanoma tumors had changes, or mutations, in genes that code for matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) enzymes. The findings lay the foundation for more individualized cancer treatment strategies where MMP and other key enzymes play a functional role in tumor growth and spread of the disease.
Tumor suppressor genes encode proteins that normally serve as a brake on cell growth. When such genes are mutated, the brake may be lifted, resulting in the runaway cell growth known as cancer. In contrast, oncogenes are genes that encode proteins involved in normal cell growth. When such genes are mutated, they also may cause cancer, but they do so by activating growth-promoting signals. Cancer therapies that target oncogenes usually seek to block or reduce their action, while those aimed at tumor suppressor genes seek to restore or increase their action.
The new study may help to explain the disappointing performance of drugs designed to treat cancer by blocking MMP enzymes. Because members of the MMP gene family were thought to be oncogenes and many tumors express high levels of MMP enzymes, researchers have spent decades pursuing MMPs as promising targets for cancer therapies. However, when MMP inhibitors were tested in people with a wide range of cancers, the drugs failed to slow -- and in some cases even sped up -- tumor growth.
Now, it turns out that one of the most often mutated MMP genes in melanoma is not an oncogene at all. In its study, the team led by researchers from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) found that MMP-8 actual
|Contact: Raymond MacDougall|
NIH/National Human Genome Research Institute