JUL 02, 2019 1:58 PM PDT

Skin Color Protein Used to Better Evaluate Skin Cancer

WRITTEN BY: Julia Travers

The large, complex molecules known as proteins perform many crucial functions in the human body. By carrying out diverse kinds of work in our cells, they keep our body’s tissues and organs functioning. One protein called DDX3X is now of particular interest to scientists in Sweden because of the role it plays in metastasis, or the spread of cancer, linked to malignant melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer. 

Melanoma develops in the cells that produce melanin, or skin pigment. It can also form in the eyes and, less often, in other organs. Limiting UV radiation exposure can reduce melanoma risk somewhat. Hundreds of thousands of people develop melanoma each year, with numbers growing. In Sweden, skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer, according to Medical Xpress.

Image: skin, credit: public domain

A research team at Lund University in Sweden studied the protein DDX3X, which regulates the gene central to the creation of skin cell pigment, called MITF. 

“Previously, other researchers have found that MITF is a melanoma-specific oncogene, i.e., a gene that can trigger the development of tumors. The general function of DDX3X was known, but the link to the MITF gene was not understood. We understand more about it now," Cristian Bellodi, who headed up this research, along with Göran Jönsson, recently said

What the research team learned about DDX3X is that it plays a role in the aggressiveness of a tumor, but not whether or not a malignant melanoma develops.  

“The lower the level of DDX3X protein the patient has in the tumor cell, the more aggressive the disease and the worse the prognosis will be," Jönsson said. 

This study has revealed useful information about and DDX3X, MITF and the spread of skin cancer and also opens the door for more inquiry into topics such as how MITF is regulated and how the tumor cells travel in a body, the researchers said.

Image: skin, credit: public domain

“The X-Linked DDX3X RNA Helicase Dictates Translation Reprogramming and Metastasis in Melanoma,” was published in the journal Cell Reports in June 2019. 

Sources: Medical Xpress, Cell Reports

About the Author
Julia Travers is a writer, artist and teacher. She frequently covers science, tech, conservation and the arts. She enjoys solutions journalism. Find more of her work at jtravers.journoportfolio.com.
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