The protein, Akt3, appears to be responsible for promoting tumor cell survival and development in 43 percent to 60 percent of non-inherited melanomas.
"Our study showed that lowering Akt3 activity can reduce the tumor-creating potential of melanoma cells by making the cancer cells more likely to respond to signals that tell them to die," said Gavin P. Robertson, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmacology, pathology and dermatology, Penn State College of Medicine. "Because most chemotherapeutic drugs work by inducing apoptosis, or programmed cell death, we predict that inhibiting Akt3 activity could lower the threshold doses of drugs or radiation required for effective chemo- or radiotherapy and provide a mechanism to directly target the melanoma cells."
The study, published recently in the journal Cancer Research, used melanoma cell lines together with tumors taken directly from melanoma patients to show that as melanoma cells become more aggressive and metastatic, the amount of active Akt3 protein in the cells increases.
In non-cancerous cells, another protein called PTEN phosphatase and tensin homologue starts a chain reaction ensuring that malfunctioning and damaged cells are killed. But abnormal cancerous cells gain the ability to switch off PTEN, allowing dysfunctional, cancerous cells to survive and thrive.
This study exposes another link in that chain reaction by connecting PTEN to Akt3 in melanomas. Robertson found that PTEN specifically regulates Akt3. Consequently, when PTEN is lost, Akt3 malfunctions and accumulates, allowing melanoma cells to survive.
"In addition to the connection to PTEN, we also found that more copies of the Akt3 gene are present as melanoma cells become more aggre