Much like using dimmer switches to brighten or darken rooms, biochemists have identified a protein called CFIm25  that can be used to slow down or speed up the growth of brain tumors in mice. 

Brain and other nervous system cancers are expected to claim over 14,000 lives in the United States this year and the results of the pre-clinical study discovered a way to slow tumor growth in a mouse model of brain cancer by altering the process by which genes are converted into proteins.

Appropriately called messenger RNA, these molecules take the information inside genes and use it to make body tissues. While it was known that the messenger RNA molecules associated with the cancerous cells were shorter than those with healthy cells, the mechanism by which this occurred was not understood. 

From left to right Eric J. Wagner, Ph.D., Chioniso P. Masamha, Ph.D., and Ann-Bin Shyu, Ph.D. Credit: The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth)

The research team discovered that a protein called CFIm25 is critical to keeping messenger RNA long in healthy cells and that its reduction promotes tumor growth. The key research finding in this study was that restoring CFIm25 levels in brain tumors dramatically reduced their growth.

This link to brain tumors wasn't previously known.

"Its role in brain tumor progression was first found through big data computational analysis, then followed by animal-based testing. This is an unusual model for biomedical research, but is certainly more powerful, and may lead to the discovery of more drug targets," said Wei Li, Ph.D., of Baylor College of Medicine.

"Understanding how messenger RNA length is regulated will allow researchers to begin to develop new strategies aimed at interfering with the process that causes unusual messenger RNA shortening during the formation of tumors," said Eric J. Wagner, Ph.D., of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

Additional preclinical tests are needed before the strategy can be evaluated in humans.