Protein helps prevent skin cancer

May 25, 2011

A “gatekeeper” protein called C/EBP alpha plays a major role in skin cancer prevention in humans as well as lab mice, according to researchers from North Carolina State University, Medical News Today reports.

Raleigh, N.C. - A “gatekeeper” protein called C/EBP alpha plays a major role in skin cancer prevention in humans as well as lab mice, according to researchers from North Carolina State University, Medical News Today reports.

C/EBP alpha is normally expressed in abundance to help protect skin cells from DNA damage when humans are exposed to sunlight. The study suggests, however, that the protein is not expressed when certain human skin cancers are present. Moreover, when investigators deactivated the C/EBP alpha protein in lab mice exposed to small amounts of UVB solar radiation, the mice became more susceptible to skin cancer.

Researchers led by Robert Smart, Ph.D., professor of environmental and molecular toxicology, concluded that C/EBP alpha serves as an important cellular “pause button.” In the presence of DNA damage, C/EBP alpha halts the cell-replication process to allow time for cells to repair themselves and prevent DNA errors from occurring.

Medical News Today quotes Dr. Smart as saying, “Loss of C/EBP alpha expression is associated with some of the most common human cancers, including breast and colon cancer. We think it may also have a role in tumor suppression in these cancers via its gatekeeper function.”

The next step is to determine how C/EBP alpha fulfills its gatekeeper role and how and why the protein is inactivated in cancerous cells, Dr. Smart says.

The research, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Cancer Institute, appears in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.