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Lack of Gatekeeper Protein Linked to Skin Cancer

Posted: May 23, 2011

New research from North Carolina State University shows that a "gatekeeper" protein plays an important role in skin-cancer prevention in humans and lab mice.

The protein, C/EBP alpha, is normally abundantly expressed to help protect skin cells from DNA damage when humans are exposed to sunlight. The NC State research shows, however, that the protein is not expressed when certain human skin cancers are present.

Moreover, when the protein is inactivated in special lab mice exposed to small amounts of the UVB solar radiation, the mice become more susceptible to skin cancer.

Robert Smart, PhD, professor of environmental and molecular toxicology at NC State and the corresponding author of a paper in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology describing the research, says that C/EBP alpha serves as an important "pause button" in cells. If there is any DNA damage, C/EBP alpha halts the cell-replication process to allow time for cells to repair themselves to prevent DNA errors from occurring.

"Loss of C/EBP alpha expression is associated with some of the most common human cancers, including breast and colon cancer," Smart says. "We think it may also have a role in tumor suppression in these cancers via its gatekeeper function."