Protein Linked to Malignant Melanoma

A protein called DDX3X has been found to regulate a melanoma-specific oncogene called MITF that is central to the development of the pigment cells in the skin.

A research team from Lund University in Sweden has studied a protein that regulates a gene linked to metastasis of malignant melanoma.

The most serious form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma affects approximately 300,000 individuals worldwide and the number of cases reported annually is increasing. Over the past 10 years, new treatment alternatives using methods that strengthen the immune system or attack specific cancer cells have been developed for patients with this disease. However, there is still little knowledge of how the tumor cells spread to other parts of the body.

A protein called DDX3X has been found to regulate a melanoma-specific oncogene called MITF that is central to the development of the pigment cells in the skin. This gene has been known to trigger the development of tumors. Although the general link to DDX3X was known, the link to the MITF gene was not understood.

The researchers determined that the DDX3X protein does not affect whether or not a tumor is developed, but rather how aggressive it is, according to the findings. They noted that the patient’s level of DDX3X can serve as a biomarker for predicting how intractable the disease will be.

"The activity of the MITF gene determines the melanoma cells' specific characteristics, which are then linked to the disease prognosis. The lower the level of DDX3X protein the patient has in the tumor cell, the more aggressive the disease and the worse the prognosis will be," Göran Jönsson, PhD, professor of Molecular Oncology at Lund University, said in a press release.

The researchers concluded that more knowledge is needed about how the MITF gene is regulated in order to understand the mechanisms behind how tumor cells move around in the body. The results could potentially lead to new methods to prevent the spread of melanoma and improve treatment.

Reference

Jönsson, G. Phung B, Ciesla M. The X-linked DDX3X RNA helicase dictates translation reprogramming and metastasis in melanoma. 2019. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep.2019.05.069