Karolinska Institutet scientists have identified a gene that regulates the activity of another gene called p53, which protects against cancer.
Writing about their work in the journal Molecular Cell, the researchers have revealed the newly identified gene as Wrap53.
They have found that Wrap53 gives rise to a molecule, known as antisense RNA, the presence of which is necessary for the production of sufficient quantities of p53 protein in the event of DNA damage.
Marianne Farnebo, a member of the research team, said that the results suggested that damage to Wrap53 could indirectly cause cancer.
She, thus, said that Wrap53 was a new potential target for future cancer therapies.
"Mutations in the p53 gene contribute to about half of all cancer cases. In the remaining half, p53 is probably inactivated in other ways, such as damage to Wrap53 knocking out the production of the p53 protein," she said.
The researchers also claimed that theirs was one of the first to show how antisense RNA regulates genes in the human body.
It is already a well-known fact that genes often control each other through the influence of their end products - usually proteins - on gene expression.
With antisense regulation, control is effected instead through the production of mutually stabilising or destructive RNA molecules by genes with overlapping sequences, which determines whether or not the RNA molecules form proteins.
"At least 20 per cent of all genes can be regulated by antisense RNA, making it a potentially very common control mechanism. But it's been difficult to show that antisense RNA really does serve important functions in the body, as we've managed to do in this study," says Dr Farnebo.