In the cover article of the September issue of Cancer Cell, researchers reported that these natural-born killers peptide subunits of cell-signaling "BH3" proteins could out-maneuver opposing "anti-death" proteins and trigger the suicide process. Cell suicide or "apoptosis" prevents wayward cells from growing out of control and becoming cancerous.
"Many cancer cells may stay alive due to the overexpression of anti-death proteins," said Dana-Farber's Anthony Letai, MD, PhD, lead author of the paper. "That we could specifically target a key death signal associated with cancer gives hope that the same can ultimately be done to cancer cells in people as well."
Stanley Korsmeyer, MD, is senior author of the paper. Korsmeyer, who is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Dana-Farber, and his laboratory colleagues have previously been the source of major advances in understanding the body's elaborate mechanism for programmed cell death.
The interaction of several "die" or "survive" signals from inside and outside the cell ultimately determine whether cells continue to reproduce or are terminated. Proteins carry these signals and the relative balance of the survival and apoptotic ("death") signals determines the cell's fate.
The new findings, which emerged from laboratory experiments on cell components, are another step in unraveling the body's extraordinarily complicated system of apoptosis, also known as "programmed cell death."
Apoptosis, which culls out cells during fetal development after they have served their purpose, also helps prevent cancer by killing off cells that have become damaged an
Contact: Bill Schaller
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute