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Protein plays three cancer-fighting roles

Study finds p53 helps produce molecules indirectly involved in controlling cell proliferation

1:21pm, July 22, 2009

Cells, do you need layers of cancer protection but hate juggling multiple proteins? Then an important tumor-suppressor is for you. A new study shows this cancer-controlling protein, p53, does not one, not two, but three different jobs, all in one convenient package.

Previous studies have demonstrated that p53 stops cancer from developing by sensing stress, such as DNA damage, and turning on genes that keep cells from dividing until the damage is repaired. The protein, which is a normal component of cells, also teams up with other molecules to trigger apoptosis, a type of cellular suicide, in over-stressed cells.

And now, researchers from University of Tokyo and their colleagues report in the July 23 Nature that p53 helps slice long pieces of RNA into small regulatory molecules called microRNAs. These microRNAs help control production of proteins, including some involved in cell proliferation, which can lead to cancer if unchecked.

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