University of Otago Logo PAX genes are members of a small family of genes that apparently play crucial roles in embryonic development. Well, it now appears that these genes are significantly involved in cancer as well. In a major breakthrough, University of Otago scientists found that PAX genes allow cancer cells to grow and divide in adult tissue. It is also predicted that PAX8 can serve as a good target for future cancer therapies.

In the year 2003, investigators had proven that proteins from one or more of the nine PAX genes may be largely present in common cancers. Also ‘silencing’ the gene expression of PAX2 in ovarian and bladder cancer cells and of PAX3 in melanoma was shown to cause rapid cell death. However, in the current research, it was asserted that silencing the PAX8 gene also produces a dramatic effect on cells in several kinds of tumors, but a different mechanism has to be applied.

“We found that these PAX8-depleted cancer cells ceased growing and dividing. The cells were essentially stopped in their tracks through the failure of multiple mechanisms and pathways crucial to their cell division cycle. They then entered into a state called senescence in which they no longer divided, and after that they ultimately died,” remarked Professor Michael Eccles.

During the investigation, researchers detected high levels of PAX8 protein in kidney, ovarian and thyroid cancers. Then molecular techniques were employed to seemingly silence PAX8 in several cancer cell lines. As a result, the number of cancer cells was purportedly reduced. In conclusion, it was affirmed that PAX genes are a favorable line of attack against several forms of cancers.

The research is published in the journal Oncogene.