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New CU Study Suggests Link Between Tumor Suppressors and Starvation Survival
Date:5/9/2013

esearchers monitored the two- to three-week survival time of hundreds of C. elegans hatchlings in an environment with no food, which caused immediate “developmental arrest,” said Han, a professor in CU-Boulder’s molecular, cellular and developmental biology department. “The survival time of the young nematodes is dramatically shorter when the Rb gene is mutated, which causes changes in the activities of multiple cell signaling pathways.”

The study suggests that Rb plays a critical role in maintaining a starvation-induced “transcriptome,” which is the transcription of DNA to corresponding bits of RNA that allow researchers to pinpoint when and where each gene is turned on or off in the cells, he said. Under starved conditions, for example, Rb represses some responses induced by other physical stressors like pathogens and toxins.

Han said the Rb gene is mutated in a large percentage of human cancers. Hundreds of mutations in the RB gene have been identified in people with retinoblastoma, a rare type of eye cancer that usually strikes young children.

“Altogether, these findings identify Rb as a critical regulator of the starvation response and suggest a link between functions of tumor suppressors and starvation survival,” the team wrote in Current Biology. “These results may provide mechanistic insights into why cancer cells are often hypersensitive to starvation treatment.”

There are about 330 HHMI Investigators in the nation, including 15 Nobel laureates and 157 members of the National Academy of Sciences. Other HHMI Investigators at CU-Boulder include Natalie Ahn, Kristi Anseth, Tom Cech (also a Nobel laureate) and Roy Parker. In addition, HHMI Investigator Lee Niswander is at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine.

Founded in 1953 by aviator and industrialist Howard R. Hughes, HHMI is a nonprofit medical research organization that ranks as one of the nation’s largest philanthropies. In 2012 HHMI spent $800
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