Research Roundup: Genes Related to Sex Differences in Cancer Aggression and More

Scientific research

Every week there are numerous scientific studies published. Here’s a look at some of the more interesting ones.

Genes ID’ed Related to Sex Differences in Cancer Aggressiveness

Cancer appears to affect men and women differently, but the molecular and genetic reasons are not completely understood. Researchers with The Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) identified possible regulatory genes in the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, that may explain some of those differences. They published their research in the journal Science Advances.

“We have identified possible regulators responsible for tumor differences between male and female flies,” stated Cayetano Gonzalez, head of the Laboratory of Cell Division at IRB Barcelona. “The results also show that these genes could be potential targets to neutralize their degree of malignancy. Many of these possible regulators of sex-dependent differences in tumors that we have identified in our Drosophila model are highly conserved proteins that are also found in humans.”

The researchers compared the development of experimental tumors induced in the brains of male and female fruit flies. The found that the male tumors were more aggressive and were able to identify a number of proteins whose expression was significantly higher in the tumors of male flies compared to female flies. They focused on a protein called Phf7, which is also found in humans. When that protein was present in tumor cells in males, they were more aggressive and absent in the tumors in females. By removing the protein in the male flies, the aggressiveness of the tumors was significantly decreased and reached levels similar to those found in the female flies.

“Our results show that the proteins responsible for the differences in tumors between males and females can be regulated to reduce the degree of malignancy that is associated with the sex of the individual affected,” said Christina Molnar, a postdoctoral researcher at IRB Barcelona and first author of the study.

The study opens up the possibility for sex-specific cancer treatments.

A Single Brain Molecule IDed as Key in Anxiety

Research in non-human primates identified neurotrophin-3 as a key molecule involved in “dispositional anxiety.” Neurotrophin-3 stimulates neurons and became the focus of research into molecular changes in the dorsal amygdala, a part of the brain vital to emotional responses. At this point is it the first molecule shown to be causally related to anxiety.

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Flavonoid-Rich Diets, Like Tea and Apples, Protect Against Cancer and Heart Disease

Researchers from Edith Cowan University analyzed the diets of 53,048 people in Denmark over 23 years. They found that individuals who habitually ate moderate to high amounts of foods rich in flavonoids were less likely to die from cancer or heart disease. The protective effect also appeared to be greatest in people at high risk of chronic diseases caused by cigarette smoking or those who drank more than two alcoholic drinks per day. Flavonoids are found in many plants and fruits, including oranges, blueberries and broccoli. Flavonoids are shown to be anti-inflammatory and improve blood vessel function.

Subset of T-Cells Linked to Type 1 Diabetes

Researchers identified a subset of T-cells called peripheral T helper cells that appear to play a role in developing type 1 diabetes. The frequency of these types of cells increased in children recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and in healthy children who later progressed to the disease. At this time more research is needed, but they believe this discovery can lead to earlier diagnosis.

New Lipid Signaling Discoveries May Improve T-Cell Immunotherapy

T-cell therapy, such as CAR-T, uses the body’s own T-cells, reengineering them to target cancer cells. There are three different signaling pathways vital to regulating T-cell function, but how the pathways decide which T-cells will function is unknown. However, recent research into lipid signaling suggested how this is done, focusing on the role of sphingosine 1-phosphate (S1P). Their research into this helps explain the different impacts of T-cell regulation that was previously understood.

Age-Damaged Amyloid Protein Implicated in Alzheimer’s Disease

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have identified a subclass of beta-amyloid that appears to be damaged by age and that appears to cause more damage in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients than so-called normal amyloid. Rebeccah Warmack, a UCLA graduate student at the time of this research and the lead author, found that a specific version of age-modified beta-amyloid held a second “molecular zipper” that no one knew existed. Proteins exist in water, but the water is expelled as the tendril seals and zips up.

The beta-amyloid molecule has 40 or 42 amino acids connected like a string of beads. But with age, the 23rd amino acid can create a kink, similar, the authors suggest, to a garden hose. It is called isoAsp23. The normal version doesn’t form this second molecular zipper, but the kinked version does. The zippered version at this point is unbreakable and once the fibrils start, can’t be stopped, which initiates a cascade that seems to result in Alzheimer’s disease.

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