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Lack of Gatekeeper Protein Linked to Skin Cancer

Posted: May 23, 2011

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In the study, the researchers found that human skin expresses C/EBP alpha as does the pre-cancerous, benign lesion called actinic keratose—the precursor to skin cancer.

"C/EBP alpha is expressed in normal human skin and in pre-cancerous actinic keratoses, but something happens when cancerous lesions appear—the protein is not expressed," Smart says. "We then asked, 'Is the loss of C/EBP alpha contributing to tumor formation?' The answer seems to be yes."

Smart and colleagues exposed hairless, genetically modified mice—bred with C/EBP alpha inactivated — to low doses of the UVB solar radiation. The mice were highly susceptible to certain common types of skin cancer —squamous cell carcinomas— with these cancerous tumors developing and growing rapidly.

"If you can figure out how to keep C/EBP alpha turned on, maybe the tumor would stay in its pre-cancerous state," Smart says.

Smart adds that figuring out how the protein fulfills its gatekeeper role— and how and why the protein is inactivated in cancerous cells—marks the next step in his research.