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Writing in the July 20 issue of Molecular Cell, a team at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, reported that the protein IKKa prevented a vital "checkpoint" gene from shutting down and allowing cancer cells to spread.
The protein often is absent or only found at lower levels in a type of skin cancer cell.
IKKa is found at lower than normal levels in aggressive squamous cell carcinomas in both mice and humans. When operating normally, it allows the checkpoint gene 14-3-3o to respond to DNA damage in the cell. The gene usually creates a protein that blocks defective cells from dividing, allowing genetic errors to be repaired rather than copied.
Without IKKa proteins, the gene does not function optimally, and cells that multiply with damaged or abnormal genes are the root of cancer.