Magazine article USA TODAY

Interference Leads to Cancer Growth

Magazine article USA TODAY

Interference Leads to Cancer Growth

Article excerpt

Overactivity of a protein that normally cues cells to divide sabotages the body's natural cellular recycling process, leading to heightened cancer growth and chemotherapy resistance, researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, have found.

The epidermal growth factor receptor, or EGFR, is found at abnormally high levels on the surface of many types of cancer cells. The study, led by Beth Levine, director of the Center for Autophagy Research and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, revealed that EGFR turns off autophagy, a process by which cells recycle unneeded parts, by binding to a protein, Beclin 1, which normally turns on the process. The deactivation of autophagy by EGFR leads to more rapid tumor growth and chemotherapy resistance.

'The fact that this type of cell surface receptor can directly interact with Beclin 1 and shut off autophagy provides fundamental insight into how certain oncogenes may cause cancer," says Levine. "Our findings suggest that inactivation of autophagy may be a critically important factor in the progression of lung cancer."

Earlier work in the laboratory of Levine identified Beclin 1 as the first mammalian gene shown to function in autophagy. Defects in this gene may contribute not only to cancer, but to aging and neurodegenerativo and infectious diseases.

While the link between EGFR cell signaling action and cancer growth was known, with several pharmaceutical inhibitors of EGFR already on the market to combat cancer, exactly how this process worked was a mystery. …

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