It might seem like science has systematically explored and revealed most aspects of our lives, taking away every bit of uncertainty or mystery. This is not exactly the case. In fact, one area that keeps providing new and exciting information is the human body, one of the most complex systems on Earth.
Researchers from the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas have brought to light the remarkable properties of a certain molecule, the BRCA-associated protein 1 (BAP1), and its effects on cancer cells. They found BAP1 as an important tumor-suppressing gene in kidney, eye, bile duct, mesothelioma and other cancers. The underlying process looks to be ferroptosis, a recently discovered type of programmed cell death.
“Ferroptosis is structurally, genetically and biochemically distinct from other forms of regulated cell death such as apopotosis. It is well established that cell death, most notably apoptosis, plays important roles in tumor suppression. The roles of and regulatory mechanisms of ferroptosis in tumor biology, however, still remain largely unexplored”, notes the press release.
The team led by Boyi Gan, Ph.D., associate professor of Experimental Radiation Oncology, noticed that BAP1 encodes a key enzyme which in turn interacts with other cell components causing tumor death. The protein also mediated ferroptosis through a certain cystine ‘transporter’ called SLC7A11.
“We showed that BAP1 inhibits tumor development partly through SLC7A11 and ferroptosis and that cancer-associated BAP1 mutants lose their abilities to repress SLC7A11 and to promote ferroptosis. Together, our results uncover a previously unappreciated mechanism coupling ferroptosis to tumor suppression.”
The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health and supported by other important institutions, like Baylor College of Medicine, Houston and China Medical University, Taichung, Taiwan, will hopefully open new investigation avenues based on these findings.