American scientists have discovered a protein's "Jekyll and Hyde" role in cancer development.
While the protein called FOXO3a is thought to protect against cancer development, researchers from the Mayo Clinic campus in Florida and Harvard Medical School have found that it can actually spur the spread of tumours.
They point out that FOXO3a, a transcription factor that regulates gene expression, becomes active when growing cancer cells begin to starve.
Their study suggests that this protein then turns on molecular switches that allow the cancer cells to invade surrounding tissues.
"This is a complete reversal of what everyone thought about FOXO3a - that we should find a way to activate this transcription factor so as to fight cancer growth," says cancer biologist Dr. Peter Storz, the study's lead investigator from Mayo Clinic in Florida.
Funded in part by the Florida Department of Health, the study illustrates the growing recognition in the research community that proteins can play multiple roles with respect to tumour progression.
A research article describing the study has been published in the journal Molecular and Cellular Biology.