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"Tribbles" Protein Implicated in Leukemia

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have identified a new protein associated with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). Several lines of evidence point to a protein called Tribbles // , named after the furry creatures that took over the starship Enterprise in the original Star Trek series. Tribbles was first described in fruit flies.

“Tribbles had never been directly linked to human malignancy,” says senior author Warren S. Pear, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. “This is a new protein to human cancer and has a specific and overwhelming effect when expressed in hematopoietic stem cells, the cell type that gives rise to all elements of the blood.”

Three lines of evidence implicate Tribbles in AML. First, all mice engineered to express Tribbles-2 (Trib-2) in hematopoietic stem cells developed AML. They also found that Trib-2 inhibited C/EBP?, another protein that is frequently mutated in AML patients. Additionally, expression of the Tribbles protein was elevated in blood samples from AML patients, further suggesting that it contributes to AML. Overall, the findings suggest that Tribbles induces AML by inactivating the C/EBP? protein. The results were published in this week’s issue of Cancer Cell.

AML is a malignancy that arises in white blood cells and develops when there is a defect in immature immune cells in the bone marrow. In AML, the uncontrolled, exaggerated growth and accumulation of white blood cells leads to anemia and a deficiency of normal white cells in the blood. AML is the most common type of leukemia in adults, with an estimated 10,100 new cases reported each year.

Pear, also a researcher in the Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute at Penn; first author and postdoctoral fellow Karen Keeshan, PhD; and colleagues found Tribbles by chance when looking for the molecular partners of another protein called Notch. Notch is a molecular switch of sort
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