MONDAY, Aug. 15, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- A cell surface enzyme called matriptase can cause cancer, concludes a U.S. study.
The finding could bring a new target for drug therapy within easy reach, experts say.
In research with mice bred to express the human version of the matriptase gene, researchers at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research found that this enzyme, on its own, can cause cancer.
This is the first study to find that a protein-cleaving enzyme, or protease, on the cell surface can trigger formation of tumor cells. Matriptase is also the first known cell surface enzyme that acts as an "oncogene" -- mutated genes and their proteins that prompt the uncontrolled cell division found in tumors.
"What we found is deregulated matriptase sends a strong and versatile pro-growth signal that can travel along more than one route to the cell nucleus," Dr. Karin List, one of the study's lead authors, said in a prepared statement. "But the key point is, like a classic oncogene, matriptase initiates the erroneous growth signal. As further confirmation of this, when we turned off matriptase, not only the tumors but the precancerous lesions never appeared in the mice."
"What makes matriptase potentially such a good molecular target to treat cancer is its accessibility," study senior author Dr. Thomas Bugge said in a prepared statement. "We don't have to trick the tumor cell to internalize a drug, then hope it reaches its destination in an appropriate concentration and duration. In this case, the bull's eye is right on the cell surface."
The findings appear in the current issue of Genes and Development.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about cancer.