New “recycler” protein kicks cancer to the curb

By Liz Fuller-Wright

dense tumor clusters
In breast cancer patients, primary tumors often spread to vital organs such as the lungs, driven by pro-metastatic genes such as Snai2. Shown here is a histologic section of a mouse lung bearing a metastatic lesion derived from primary mammary tumor. The metastatic lesion in the lung appears as a dense tumor cell cluster. Image courtesy of Yibin Kang

A dangerous protein called SNAI2 helps cancers spread and hide from treatment, but now researchers at Princeton have found two keys to controlling it: A “recycler” named ASB13 that tags SNAI2 for shredding, and a molecule named USP20 that removes those tags. While SNAI2 is notoriously hard to attack directly, ASB13 and USP20 are controllable by medications, providing possible new paths to treatment, said Yibin Kang, the Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis Professor of Molecular Biology. The team published the result online Sept. 17, 2020, in Genes and Development.