Protein-Based Cancer Signature

The University of Basel’s Biozentrum research team has investigated the expression of ribosomal proteins in a range of human tissues, including tumors.  They have discovered a cancer type specific signature and have reported this in Genome Biology.  This cancer signature could potentially be used to predict the progression of the disease.

As we learned in high school biology, it is true that proteins are the building blocks of life. Proteins are produced by molecular machines called ribosomes.  Some eighty ribosomal proteins are contained in human ribosomes.  A research group of Prof. Mihaela Zavolan at the Biozentrum University of Basel has discovered that about ¼ of the ribosomal proteins have tissue-specific expression and different cancer types have their own individual expression pattern of ribosomal proteins.  These patterns may serve as a prognostic marker for cancer and might point towards new therapeutic opportunities.

The Ribosomes are responsible for protein synthesis and are essential for the cell.  It has been assumed that the expression of the individual components of the ribosomes is controlled and invariant, but a few studies have suggested that the expression of individual ribosomal proteins is altered in cancers as well as in diseases of the hematopoietic system, such as acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

The cancer signature has been revealed by systematic data analysis in 30 tissue types, 300 different cell types and 16 different types of tumors, such as lung and breast cancer.  They also found a wide variability in ribosomal protein gene expression as hematopoietic and tumor cells that display the most complex expression pattern.  Consistent signatures emerged for the different cancer types after the analysis of distinct data sets, including patient samples.  The expression of some ribosomal proteins is systematically reduced and others increased in cancer cells.  This would tell us that individual ribosomal proteins could suppress or promote tumorigenesis.

They also discovered a relationship between the signature in breast cancer and the relapse-free survival.  Three ribosomal proteins allow a fairly accurate prognosis of disease progression, comparable to the best predictive markers that are currently known.  This demonstrates the potential of such expression signatures for the prognosis and maybe even a diagnosis of cancer.  They hope to study the functions of individual ribosomal proteins and perhaps opening the door for new therapeutic options.

Dr Fredda Branyon

image c/o pixabay

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