395-woman Cancer Research study designates PEA-15 expression as a biomarker for survival of ovarian cancer.

Researchers at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center have identified a protein that forces ovarian cancer cells to kill themselves by cannibalism rather than via apoptosis.

An analysis of ovarian cancer tumors from 395 women showed those with high expression of the protein phosphoprotein enriched in astrocytes 15 (PEA-15) had a median survival time of 50.2 months compared with 33.5 months for women with low levels of the protein in their tumors, which marks the protein as an independent indicator of a woman’s prospects for surviving ovarian cancer,

Removing PEA-15 from ovarian cancer cells led to a 115% increase in the number of cells compared with a control group of cells that still had the protein. The research team found that the protein works to inhibit cancer in two distinct ways depending on its location in the cell.

PEA-15 first inhibits one of the prominent actors in the growth, differentiation, and mobility of cells, a protein called extracellular signaling related kinase (ERK). Activated ERK in the cell nucleus fuels cancer growth. The research team earlier found that PEA-15 binds to ERK in the nucleus and moves it out into the cytoplasm, preventing its growth effects. PEA-15 then works in the cytoplasm itself, inducing autophagy in cancer cells.

This report appears in the November 15 issue of Cancer Research.

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