Mount Sinai Logo Identifying and treating common cancers may now become uncomplicated, thanks to the following discovery. Scientists from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine have apparently discovered a mechanism managing the function of a protein that binds to DNA during embryonic development and avoids abnormal tumor growth. The protein known as TCF3 when changed by the small molecule phosphate fails in binding to DNA and altering the way protein signals during development.

In the course of the investigation, experts found a possibly unique diagnostic marker called phosphorylated TCF3 that is correlated to cancer and can be a potential drug target. The research was conducted on frog embryos for analyzing the way cells ‘talk’ to each other and differentiate into various cell types, like neurons or muscle cells. It is assumed that signaling proteins termed as Wnts help these cells to communicate that function during embryonic development and malfunction in cancer, namely colon carcinomas, melanomas, skin, lung and liver tumors. The team of experts aimed to observe the effects of a cell responding to Wnt protein.

Dr. Sergei Sokol, PhD, Professor of Developmental and Regenerative Biology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and lead investigator, alleged, “Our study is the first to show an alternative mechanism of Wnt signaling, that operates in vivo to modulate the activity of TCF3. We now know that this change in TCF3 activity leads to a profound alteration of target genes that are important in early development and are abnormally regulated in cancer.”

Wnt signal supposedly activates the special enzyme homeodomain-interacting protein kinase, which includes a phosphate group to TCF3. This process probably alters the activity of TCF3 and activates gene expression in early development for embryonic tissues to develop tail structures. Though it may be beneficial for the early embryo, the same process can also trigger tumor formation in the adult. Once the presence of the phosphate molecule on TCF3 is determined, then the cancer can be possibly identified early and hence provide more treatment options. Further investigations will be undertaken to understand the role of TCF regulation for gene expression in detail.

The research is published in the current issue of Developmental Cell.