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Key Enzyme Linked to Cancer Risk

Mice lacking the DFF gene had triple the rate of malignancy, researchers say

FRIDAY, Jan. 27, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- An enzyme called DNA fragmentation factor (DFF) -- which chops up DNA during programmed cell death -- may be linked to increased genetic mutations and cancer susceptibility, a Duke University Medical Center study finds.

When researchers turned off this enzyme in mice, cells had a higher survival rate, even if they had harmful genetic mutations such as those that cause cancer. Mice lacking the DFF enzyme developed cancer three to four times more often than normal mice after both groups of mice were exposed to chemicals or ionizing radiation.

The findings could help scientists better understand how cancer-causing genetic mutations accumulate with enough frequency to cause cancer in people with no hereditary risk for the disease. They may also help explain why some cancer patients develop resistance to drug or radiation treatments.

The study was published online in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Programmed cell death occurs when cells are damaged or no longer needed by the body. DFF appears late in this process.

"Native DNA is densely packed and very sticky, so the job of this enzyme is to chop it up into small pieces so other cells can absorb it and dealt with it," study senior author Dr. Chuan-Yuan Li, a professor of radiation oncology and cancer biology, said in a prepared statement.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about cancer.

SOURCE: Duke University, news release, Jan. 23, 2006
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