"The increase in the number of hematopoietic progenitor and stem cells in Sept4-deficient mice brings with it the possibility of accelerating the accumulation of mutations in stem cells," says Garcia-Fernandez. "They have more stem cells with enhanced resistance to apoptosis. In the end, that leads to more cells accumulating mutations that cannot be eliminated."
Indeed, the ARTS-deprived mice developed spontaneous tumors at about twice the rate of their controls. "We make a connection between apoptosis, stem cells and cancer that has not been made in this way before: this pathway is critically important in stem cell death and in reducing tumor risk," Steller says. "The work supports the idea that the stem cell is the seed of the tumor and that the transition from a normal stem cell to a cancer stem cell involves increased resistance to apoptosis."
ARTS interferes with molecules called inhibitor of apoptosis proteins (IAPs), which prevent cells from killing themselves. By inhibiting these inhibitors, under the right circumstances ARTS helps to take the brakes off the process of apoptosis, permitting the cell to die on schedule. Pharmaceutical companies are working to develop small molecule IAP antagonists, but this research is the first to show that inactivating a natural IAP antagonist actually causes tumors to grow, Steller says. It also suggests that the premature silencing of the Sept4/ARTS pathway at the stem cell level may herald cancer to come.
"This work not only defines the role of the ARTS gene in the underlying mechanism of mammalian tumor cell resistance to programmed cell death, but also links this gene to another hallmark of cancer, stem and progenitor cell proliferation," said Marion Zatz, who oversees cell death grants, including Steller's, at the NIH's National Institute of General Medical Sciences. "The identification of the ARTS gene and its role in cancer cell deat
|Contact: Brett Norman|