New protein may play role in preventing malignant change in cells

HOUSTON--(Aug. 30, 2001)--A protein discovered by researchers at Baylor College of Medicine plays a key role in regulating the cells cycle and preventing it from replicating erratically, which increases its chance of becoming malignant.

The protein called Fbw7 is a key element in controlling cyclin E, another protein involved in control of cell proliferation. High levels of cyclin E in breast tumors are indicators of poor prognosis, said Dr. Stephen Elledge, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute researcher at Baylor. Elledge and Dr. J. Wade Harper are senior authors of a paper on the research published on the Science Express web site, Aug. 31. Their laboratories participated equally in the work.

Cells that make too much cylin E are constantly proliferating and are genetically unstable, Elledge said. The protein found in Elledges laboratory -- Fbw7 controls the levels of cyclin E in cells. If you interfere with its function in Drosophila (fruit fly) tissue culture cells or in human cells, the cyclin E levels become very high, he said. It truly is a regulator of cyclin E.

In addition, the researchers found that the laboratory breast cancer-derived cell cultures that made the most cyclin E failed to make Fbw7 at all. This (the gene that is the code for production of Fbw7) is very probably a tumor suppressor gene, Elledge said.

Genes are associated with the production of specific proteins. Tumor suppressor genes and their associated proteins work to prevent cellular changes that can cause tumors. When something interferes with the action of the gene such as a mutation the process of cancer can begin at the cellular level.


Contact: Lynn Foltin
Baylor College of Medicine

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