A new study by the scientists at the University of Virginia School of Medicine revealed how UTX gene mutation boosts cancer risk. The discovery could pave the way towards better ways to battle and prevent cancer.
The key molecular activity essential for tumor suppression after UTX inactivation remains elusive. This causes the barrier to cancer therapies targeting UTX-related pathways. This new study solves that mystery.
The gene forms droplets in cells, preventing tumor formation. But, the gene mutation causes a wrench in the process, hence leaving affected people vulnerable.
Hao Jiang, Ph.D., of UVA Cancer Center, said, “Disruption or alterations of these droplets can profoundly affect how our cells fight cancer. Forming proper droplets is likely to be a fundamental mechanism that maintains cellular health, and we are just beginning to understand.”
The study offers detailed information on the way our bodies keep us safe from cancer. The UTX gene plays a vital role in forming ‘condensates’ inside cells to prevent tumor formation.
These little droplets condense from material in cells, sort of like how water droplets condense on the outside of a cold glass. Once the droplets have formed, critical biological processes can take place.
These droplets are essential for suppressing tumors and directing embryonic stem cells, generalized cells that can turn into highly specialized cells.
The droplets control the activity of chromatin for tumor suppression. This ensures chromatin’s optimal activity.
Scientists noted, “The interaction ensures efficient and correct chromatin modifications and interactions to orchestrate a proper tumor-suppressive transcriptional program.”
However, scientists found that UTX gene mutation rips the cells of this essential ability, putting people at risk for cancer.
The findings also suggest that UTY, the Y-chromosome counterpart of UTX in men, forms condensates with more solid-like properties, making it less effective in suppressing cancer. This may contribute to the widely observed phenomenon that men are more likely to get cancer than women.
Jiang said, “We are very interested in how the condensate properties of UTX are regulated in cells and how other proteins may control cancer through forming droplets. These studies will likely open up new approaches to cancer treatment by regulating these droplets.”
- Bi Shi, Wei Li, et al. UTX condensation underlies its tumour-suppressive activity. Nature, 2021; 597 (7878): 726 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-03903-7