A new therapy for tongue cancer could be in the offing, with a team of scientists at the Department of Biotechnology’s Hyderabad-based Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics coming out with a newinsight into the mechanism by which an anti-cancer protein helps in thedevelopment of cancer when it mutates.

Human cells carry a protein called p53. It is very helpful as it controls several fundamental processes including cell division and repair of damaged DNA. It functions by binding directly to DNA leading to the production of proteins needed for regular cellular functions as well as effectively blocking cancer development. 

However, its abilityto prevent cancer is significantly compromised, if it mutates. Moreimportantly, recent studies have reported that some specific and common mutatedp53 forms even activate cancer growth.

In a new study,scientists at CDFD have identified rare p53 mutant forms unique to Indian tongue cancer and the likelymeans by which these mutant p53 cause cancer. For this, they collected tonguecancer samples from post-surgery patients and screened them for modificationsin a gene called TP53. The gene is a sequence of nucleotides (buildingblocks) in the DNA that code for the production of the p53 protein.

Further, by using state of the art technologies, they identified target genes of the mutant p53 protein. Of these, a gene called SMARCD1 was the most prominent. SMARCD1 encodesa protein that along with several other proteins constitutes a multi-proteincomplex involved in changing the structure of DNA enabling the production of proteinsfrom genes. Surprisingly, the scientists found that SMARCD1 was an exclusivetarget of mutations observed in Indian tongue cancer patients. Further studies showedthe ability of SMARCD1 to increase cancerous features in tongue cancer cells. 

Notably, this is thefirst time that SMARCD1 has been shown to be a possible driver of any form ofcancer. The leader of the study team, Dr. M.D. Bashyam of the Laboratory ofMolecular Oncology at the Centre said,“The observations made in this study assume significance since they reveal anew and probable mechanism by which mutant p53 proteins encourage cancerdevelopment. The results of the study can be employed to develop therapies totreat tongue cancer, a common debilitating cancer in India”.

(India Science Wire)

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