'Gremlin' protein is associated with mesothelioma growthWhile the protein has a pretty whimsical name, its purpose is quite serious: It helps to regulate cell growth, proliferation and death. When Gremlin - also known as cell proliferation-inducing gene 2 protein - gets overproduced in the body (due to, say, genetic damage caused by asbestos exposure), the result can be one of many cancers, including mesothelioma.
That, anyway, was the conclusion of a new study conducted at the Thoracic Oncology Laboratory and Comprehensive Cancer Center of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
In healthy cells, Gremlin keeps things running smoothly
Though its name may make it sound like a bad thing, Gremlin is actually a vital protein in the human body. It has a number of functions, including:
- Regulating bone morphogenetic proteins, which help determine early embryonic growth
- Helping to remodel tissue
- Partially determining the creation of new blood vessels, and
- Putting the brakes, so to speak, on the transforming growth factor beta signaling pathway, which itself helps determine cell growth, tissue differentiation and programmed cell death.
However, if DNA mutations cause Gremlin to be overproduced, the result can be an increased risk for malignant disease - including, according to the new report, cancers of the respiratory system.
In malignant cells, Gremlin acts like a floored gas pedal
The study, which appeared in the journal PLoS ONE, drew conclusions from advanced genetic sequencing. Specifically, the UCSF team compared the levels of Gremlin found in 322 separate tumor samples using state-of-the-art immunohistochemistry.
Researchers found that in certain respiratory tumors, Gremlin levels were noticeably high.
"Our data suggest that Gremlin acts in an oncogenic manner in lung adenocarcinoma [AD] and could hold promise as a new diagnostic marker or potential therapeutic target in lung AD or general thoracic malignancies," the authors concluded.
Similar studies have linked the same protein directly to mesothelioma. For instance, a Chinese investigation, performed just this year at Capital Medical University in Beijing, found that some, but not all, subtypes of mesothelioma showed an overproduction of Gremlin.
The report, which appeared in the journal Oncology Reports, noted that out of all the tumor samples examined for protein overexpression, two-thirds had significantly high levels of Gremlin, potentially indicating its role in speeding the development of pleural disease.
With luck, researchers can use such findings to develop methods of detecting mesothelioma earlier or diagnosing it in a less invasive manner - say, with a simple blood test.
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