A new study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry by researchers in Brazil suggests that certain cancer-associated mutations may exhibit the same characteristics as prions, the misfolded proteins that are thought to cause diseases like Creutzfeldt–Jakob or mad cow disease, says a press release from the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. The group presents new evidence that the p53 protein may show prion-like behavior when it is mutated. "It has been known for some time that the buildup of p53 in the cell impairs the protein in preventing tumor growth," UFRJ says. "This has been observed in neuroblastoma, retinoblastoma, breast, and colon cancers." In analyzing breast cancer cell lines carrying common p53 mutations, the team found that "the formation of amyloid-like aggregates of p53 proteins may explain the protein's lack of function," the press release adds.
The team has yet to determine if the prion-like behavior is a relevant mechanism for cancer development, but they are planning further studies with synthesized nucleic acids to see if they can prevent the aggregation of misfolded proteins. "Considering that more than half of the cancers lose p53 function, this prionoid behavior may serve as a potential novel target for cancer therapy," UFJR says.