Decades ago, cancer geneticists latched on to an attractively simple model in which only two types of genes control the disease's spread: Oncogenes trigger cancers and their growth, but tumor-suppressor genes keep cancer cells in check.
Now, Patrick Mehlen of the University of Lyon in Villeurbanne, France, and his colleagues describe, in the Sept. 2 Nature, what may be a third class of cancer-controlling genes. Dubbed "conditional suppressors," these genes switch between halting and promoting cancer, depending on the presence or absence of a particular protein.
"What [these genes do] is put the brakes on cancer under one set of circumstances and [step] on the accelerator under another set of circumstances," says study coauthor Dale Bredesen of the Buck Institute for Age Research in Novato, Calif.
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