Yet when scientists, including Sancar, began to tinker with the molecular mechanisms within the internal clocks of animal models, they did not always see such an effect. Circadian rhythms in humans and in mice are controlled by "clock genes," four of which are absolutely essential. In a study four years ago, Sancar found that deleting the clock gene cryptochrome in mice did not increase the incidence of cancer as had previously been expected.
While altering the clock gene did not cause cancer in otherwise normal mice, Sancar and his colleagues wanted to see if it would accelerate the development of tumors in a mouse model that is already predisposed to cancer. Therefore, in this study they modified the cryptochrome gene in mice that also had defects in a gene called P53, which is mutated in nearly half of human cancers. The researchers found that disturbing the internal clock in these mice did not speed up the onset of cancer, but instead had the opposite effect it extended their lives by 50 percent.
The researchers then wanted to know how interfering with the cryptochrome gene had reduced the incidence of cancer. By closely examining the series of biological events in the disease's development, they determined that the mutation of this clock gene reactivates the intracellular signals that can eliminate cancerous cells. Sancar said this tactic essentially makes cancer cells more likely to commit cell suicide through a process known as apoptosis in response to the stresses of UV radiation or chemotherapy.
"These results suggest that altering the function of this clock gene, at least in the 50 percent of human cancers associated with p53 mutations, may slow the progression of cancer," Sancar said. "In combination with other approaches to cancer treatment, this method may one day be used to increase the success rate of remission."
The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health. Study co-authors from S
|Contact: Leslie Lang|
University of North Carolina School of Medicine