Researchers Discover a Protein That Fuels the Explosive Growth of Melanoma Cells

A promising study published online by Molecular Cell has found that a high level of a protein called H2A.Z.2 can activate growth-promoting genes in melanoma cells. Blocking the body's production of H2A.Z.2, either alone or in combination with medications, can not only block tumor growth, it can also kill melanoma cells.

Advances in genomics and proteomics research continue to open exciting new windows into a wide array of diseases. A promising study published online by Molecular Cell has found that a high level of a protein called H2A.Z.2 can activate growth-promoting genes in melanoma cells. Blocking the body’s production of H2A.Z.2, either alone or in combination with medications, can not only block tumor growth, it can also kill melanoma cells.

As we noted in an article last week, the worldwide incidence of malignant melanoma continues to skyrocket. Though easily prevented by minimizing exposure to UV radiation, malignant melanomas can be difficult to treat, particularly if not detected early on. Typical treatment involves surgical removal of the tumor, followed by medication, adjuvant treatment with high-dose interferon, and chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

The study was conducted by researchers at the Tisch Cancer Institute at Mount Sinai; New York University Langone Medical Center; Ludwig-Maximilians University (Munich, Germany); and the Max-Planck Institute for Biochemistry (Martinsried, Germany).

H2A.Z.2 essentially acts as a growth formula for metastatic melanomas, fueling explosive growth and leaving behind a distinct signature. Blocking this fuel showed great promise in not only blocking tumor growth, but also in priming melanoma cells for treatment with chemotherapy and other targeted therapies. “Collectively,” the researchers noted, “our findings implicate H2A.Z.2 as a mediator of cell proliferation and drug sensitivity in malignant melanoma, holding translational potential for novel therapeutic strategies.”

The research is but one part of a growing body of research into the behavior of genes and proteins. The completion of the map of the Human Genome wasn’t an endpoint as much as it was a springboard into testing the expression of certain genes and proteins. For example, one particularly interesting aspect of the Molecular Cellstudy ties into recent oncology theories showing that the expression of certain genes and proteins isn’t just a result of a person’s genetic structure. In other words, certain people may indeed have more naturally occurring H2A.Z.2 than others. But just having more of the protein doesn’t have to make a person more susceptible to malignant melanoma if the protein can be turned off or turned down.

The study authors cited the need for further research on what type of treatments best prevent H2A.Z.2 from contributing to tumor growth.