Factors in the very first step of the process that prompts normal cells to transform themselves into cancerous cells have been identified by scientists.
The DNA molecule - the elegant, twin-stranded necklace of life in all cells - gets broken and repaired all the time. Breaks are caused by the body's metabolic activities such as energy consumption and environmental factors such as exposure to ultraviolet light. Cancer results when the repair response is absent or deficient.
"DNA breaks are considered to be a major instigator of cancer cell development," said Sang Eun Lee at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio.
"When a break is detected, signals are sent to cells that repair is needed," he added.
The early initiating step of the break repair and signaling "has been quite elusive for some time because the factors were not known," Lee said.
He was lead author of a paper published recently in EMBO Journal that identified a set of enzymes called Mre11 and Exo1.
In the paper the researchers, who included the lab of Tanya Paull at UT Austin, "repeated the process in a test tube because we now knew about Mre11 and Exo1," Lee said.
The study appears in the journal Nature Structural and Molecular Biology.