Researchers at the University of Gothenburg (Sweden) have identified a hitherto unknown mechanism that controls tumor growth in cultured cells and mice.
This discovery, published in the scientific journal ‘Nature Communications’, could allow future development of new drugs against a series of carcinogenic diseases.
It is a protein that binds to genetic material and, as researchers now show, also controls properties that regulate tumor development.
The protein, known as HnRNPKjoins the messenger RNA (mRNA) encoding the two genes IER3 and IER3-AS1. These genes are highly active in various forms of cancer. By binding to the mRNA of these genes, HnRNPK prevents the formation of double-stranded RNA between them and keeps them apart.
“Keeping the RNAs of these two genes separate favors the growth of growth factor-dependent tumors. Without the HnRNPK protein, the growth-promoting properties of tumors are neutralized, paving the way for the development of drugs that block HnRNPK,” says Chandrasekhar Kanduri, one of the researchers.
The study also shows that the HnRNPK protein similarly binds to the mRNA of several other genes, preventing the formation of double-stranded RNA.
The discovery makes it possible to indirectly influence the growth factor FGF-2, which is well known to be key both in the process by which stem cells mature into various cell types and in early embryonic development.
“Given the crucial role of FGF-2 in normal human development, the use of drugs targeting the growth factor directly would have too many side effects. The mechanism we have now identified is part of the same signaling chain, but further down the line. Therefore, the mechanism has the potential to become a more attractive option for cancer treatment, with fewer side effects“, says Meena Kanduri, corresponding author of the article.
Further research is needed to verify the transferability of the finding from cell culture and mouse studies to humans. In the next stage, the group plans to conduct extended studies to examine in more detail how the pair of genes regulated by FGF-2 governs the growth environment of tumors.