New Zealand researchers have discovered that the Hox genes, important for embryonic development, are also active in a lot of cancers.
"Hox genes are important for the correct specification of the body segments that form during embryonic development," Dr Anne Voss of the Molecular Medicine division, Canterbury University said. "However, these genes are also known to be inappropriately active in a large number of cancers, particularly in leukaemia.
Advertisement"The activity of Hox genes is believed to be regulated by the chemical modification of histones—proteins that provide a structural and regulatory scaffold for the chromosomal DNA," Dr Voss said.
MOZ is a histone-modifying enzyme, and Drs Anne Voss and Tim Thomas showed that when MOZ is absent Hox genes are less active.
"There are only a few proteins known to regulate Hox genes in such a global manner as MOZ, which activates most or all Hox genes," Dr Voss said.
Drs Voss and Thomas showed in 2006 that MOZ is essential to the development of the haematopoietic stem cells that give rise to all the blood cell types. "Therefore it is likely that the genetically altered forms of MOZ cause cancer through inappropriate regulation of Hox gene expression," Dr Voss said.
The research has been published in the journal Developmental Cell. It was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council.