Basic scientists discover new role for cancer gene

Finding sheds light on protein’s part in cell behavior
Dr. Maralice Conacci-Sorrell (left) and Celine Ngouenet
The Eisenman Lab's Dr. Maralice Conacci-Sorrell (left), a postdoctoral fellow, and Celine Ngouenet, research technician, found a new form of the Myc-encoded protein, dubbed Myc-nick. Photo by Dean Forbes

Researchers in the Basic Sciences Division’s Eisenman Lab have discovered a novel function of a cancer-causing gene known as Myc, which is critically important in the progression of many types of cancer. Previous studies of the Myc protein have shown that it regulates gene expression in the nucleus.

Dr. Maralice Conacci-Sorrell, a postdoctoral fellow, and research technician Celine Ngouenet found a new form of the Myc-encoded protein, dubbed Myc-nick. They showed that the normal full-length Myc protein produces Myc-nick after it is "cut" by a protease. Instead of functioning in the nucleus, the researchers found that Myc-nick localizes to the cytoplasm, where it alters cell architecture and facilitates differentiation into specific cell types. Their findings appear in the Aug. 6 issue of the journal Cell.

“These findings were really a surprise since Myc has been thought for many years to function only in the nucleus to drive proliferation. The finding of a cytoplasmic form of the protein opens up a new way of thinking about how Myc regulates both normal and tumor cells,” said corresponding author Dr. Bob Eisenman.

The paper was listed as an editor's choice in Science Magazine and rated as "exceptional" by the website Faculty of 1000 Biology.

Eisenman is a leader in the field of oncogenes, aberrantly regulated genes that cause cancer. His studies on Myc are seminal to scientists' understanding of how normal cells become cancerous. Eisenman's work has paved the way for the discoveries of other oncogenes that work by interacting with DNA.

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