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Biology LibreTexts

16.5E: Cancer and Translational Control

  • Page ID
    13381
  • Cancer can arise from translational or post-translational modifications of proteins.

    Learning Objectives

    • Determine how translational or post-translational modifications can lead to cancer

    Key Points

    • Protein modifications from the increased translation of a protein to changes in protein phosphorylation to alternative splice variants of a protein are found in cancer cells.
    • The expression of the wrong protein dramatically alters cell function and contributes to the progression of cancer.
    • Gene regulation and gene function provide scientists with the opportunity to design medicines and therapies that specifically target diseased cells or exploit the overexpression of specific proteins as cancer treatment.

    Key Terms

    • targeted therapy: a type of medication that blocks the growth of cancer cells by interfering with specific targeted molecules rather than by interfering with rapidly dividing cells
    • cancer: a disease in which the cells of a tissue undergo uncontrolled (and often rapid) proliferation
    • post-translational modification: the chemical modification of a protein after its translation; one of the later steps in protein biosynthesis, and thus gene expression, for many proteins

    Cancer and Translational/Post-translational Control

    There are many examples of translational or post-translational modifications of proteins that arise in cancer. Modifications are found in cancer cells from the increased translation of a protein to changes in protein phosphorylation to alternative splice variants of a protein. An example of how the expression of an alternative form of a protein can have dramatically different outcomes is seen in colon cancer cells. The c-Flip protein, a protein involved in mediating the cell death pathway, comes in two forms: long (c-FLIPL) and short (c-FLIPS). Both forms appear to be involved in initiating controlled cell death mechanisms in normal cells. However, in colon cancer cells, expression of the long form results in increased cell growth instead of cell death. Clearly, the expression of the wrong protein dramatically alters cell function and contributes to the development of cancer.

    New Drugs to Combat Cancer: Targeted Therapy

    Scientists are using what is known about the regulation of gene expression in disease states, including cancer, to develop new ways to treat and prevent disease development. Many scientists are designing drugs on the basis of the gene expression patterns within individual tumors. This idea, that therapy and medicines can be tailored to an individual, has given rise to the field of personalized medicine. With an increased understanding of gene regulation and gene function, medicines can be designed to specifically target diseased cells without harming healthy cells. Some new medicines, called targeted therapies, have exploited the overexpression of a specific protein or the mutation of a gene to develop a new medication to treat disease. One such example is the use of anti-EGF receptor medications to treat the subset of breast cancer tumors that have very high levels of the EGF protein. Undoubtedly, more targeted therapies will be developed as scientists learn more about how gene expression changes can cause cancer.

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    Using Gene Expression in Targeted Therapy: Scientists are using knowledge of the regulation of gene expression in individual cancers to develop new ways to treat target diseased cells and prevent the disease from occurring. Target therapies exploit the overexpression of a specific protein or gene mutation to develop new medications against the specific cancer.

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