A protein that is necessary for breast cancer to metastasize – or spread to other parts of the body – was recently discovered.
Akt1 is a serine-threonine protein kinase which inhibits apoptosis. Breast and some other cancers cells tend to make too much Akt1. A group of researchers at Thomas Jefferson University genetically engineered some mice so that they would no longer make Akt1.
They then bred these mice with mice that overexpressed the HER2/neu/ErbB2 gene. The HER2/neu/ErbB2 protein is a type of epidermal growth factor receptor. Around 25% or so of breast cancers overexpress this protein.
The researchers found mice that ended up with only one copy of the Akt1 gene developed only small and slow growing tumors. But those with 2 copies developed metastatic cancer.
They also found that Akt1 causes cancer cells to release a protein called CXCL16, a cytokine. CXCL16 helps breast cancer cells to migrate to other regions of the body.
These results – published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – may help in developing drugs that block Akt1 to prevent breast cancer metastases in the future.
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