Breast cancer: New way for tumor cells to escape self-destruction

Expression of the long Argonaute 1 protein

Expression of the long Argonaute 1 protein variant in breast cancer tissue. (Image: University of Basel, Biozentrum)

In the body, so-called programmed cell death prevents cells with irreparable damage from surviving and turning into cancer cells. In the “EMBO Journal”, researchers at the University of Basel’s Biozentrum, report how a certain protein variant thwarts the self-destruction and thus promotes the growth of breast cancer cells.

Breast cancer is by far the most frequent type of cancer affecting women and a leading cause of death, despite advances in its detection and treatment. There are different forms of breast cancer and the causes are just as varied. One reason for the development of cancer, among others, is that cells that have accumulated defects have lost the ability to destroy themselves.

In the current study, the researchers led by Prof. Mihaela Zavolan at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel demonstrate for the first time that two variants of the protein Argonaute 1 which differ in length have an influence on whether the cell’s suicide program is initiated or not. Applying the knowledge about this newly uncovered link may lead to ways to limit tumor growth.