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Protein Found to Shield Pancreatic Cancer Cells from,Self-Destruction

HOUSTON, March 20, 2007 - An overexpressed protein protects human pancreatic cancer cells from being forced to devour themselves, removing one of the body's natural defenses against out-of-control cell growth, researchers at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center report in the March issue of Molecular Cancer Research.

The protein tissue transglutaminase, known by the abbreviation TG2, previously has been found by researchers at M. D. Anderson and elsewhere to be overexpressed in a variety of drug-resistant cancer cells and in cancer that has spread from its original organ (metastasized).

"In general, you rarely see overexpression of TG2 in a normal cell," says Kapil Mehta, Ph.D., professor in the M. D. Anderson Department of Experimental Therapeutics, who began 10 years ago studying TG2 as an inflammatory protein.

Mehta and colleagues in the past year have connected TG2 overexpression to drug-resistant and metastatic breast cancer, pancreatic cancer and melanoma.

Expression of TG2 is tightly regulated in a healthy cell, Mehta says, and is temporarily increased in response to certain hormones or stress factors. "However, constitutive expression of this protein in a cancer cell helps confer protection from stress-induced cell death," Mehta says. "We are developing TG2 as a pharmaceutical target and are now working with a mouse model to that end."

The mechanisms by which TG2 might promote drug-resistance and metastasis have remained elusive, the researchers note. In this paper, the M. D. Anderson team shows in lab experiments that inhibiting the protein in pancreatic cancer cells leads to a form of programmed cell suicide called autophagy, or self-digestion.

TG2 was inhibited in two separate ways. First, the researchers blocked another protein known to activate TG2. Secondly, they also directly targeted TG2 with a tiny molecule known as small interfering RNA
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