A particular tumor suppressor gene that fights cancer cells does more than clamp down on unabated cell division -- the hallmark of the disease -- it also can help make cells more fit by allowing them to fend off stress, says a University of Colorado Boulder study.
CU-Boulder Professor Min Han said the research team was interested in how a common tumor suppressor gene known as Retinoblastoma 1, or Rb, behaved under conditions of starvation. The question is important, said Han, because it may help researchers understand why many cancer cells are more susceptible to starvation or fasting than ordinary cells.
Han and his team studied a popular lab organism called C. elegans, a translucent nematode smaller than an eyelash. Many of the C. elegans genes have similar, corresponding human genes called homologs, and almost all cellular mechanisms found in the nematodes also are found in mammals, including humans, he said. The team charted changes in the physiology of newly hatched C. elegans in the absence of food to look at the corresponding stress response.
"We found the tumor suppressor Rb is a critical regulator of the starvation response," said Han, who also is a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator. "Rb is known for doing more than just suppressing cell division associated with cancer -- it carries out a host of other cellular tasks including regulating development. The new findings by our group and research by other groups suggest organisms survive longer when they encounter starvation by regulating the expression of a large number of genes."
A paper on the subject was published online May 9 in Current Biology, a publication of Cell Press. The co-authors on the study, Mingxue Cui, Max Cohen and Cindy Teng, are all researchers associated with both CU-Boulder and HHMI. The study was funded by HHMI and the National Institutes of Health.