Researchers from Lund University in Sweden have found that the protein DDX3X regulates the gene MITF, known to play a central role in the development of pigment cells in the skin and shown in earlier research to be able to trigger the development of melanoma.
“Previously, other researchers have found that MITF is a melanoma-specific oncogene, i.e., a gene that can trigger the development of tumours. The general function of DDX3X was known, but the link to the MITF gene was not understood. We understand more about it now,” said Cristian Bellodi, an associate senior lecturer in Lund University’s division of molecular hematology, in a press release.
Prof. Bellodi is the co-lead author of the research, which was published in Cell Reports (June 18, 2019; 27(12):3573–3586.e7), along with Göran Jönsson, a professor of molecular oncology at Lund.
While DDX3X does not appear to affect whether or not an individual will develop malignant melanoma, it plays a considerable role in the aggressiveness of the tumour, according to the findings.
This suggests that DDX3X levels may serve as a biomarker for predicting how intractable the disease will be.
“The activity of the MITF gene determines the melanoma cells’ specific characteristics, which are then linked to the disease prognosis. The lower the level of DDX3X protein the patient has in the tumour cell, the more aggressive the disease and the worse the prognosis will be,” said Prof. Jönsson, in the release.
Both researchers said that more knowledge is needed about how the MITF gene is regulated in order to understand the mechanisms behind how tumour cells move around in the body, with an aim for the future to prevent the spread of the cancer and improve treatment for melanoma patients.