UCLA Study: Protein That Suppresses Cancer Fades As We Age

LOS ANGELES (CNS/FOX 11) - UCLA researchers have found that levels of a cancer-suppressing protein diminish in skin and mouth epithelial cells as the human body ages, the university announced Thursday.

Dr. No-Hee Park, dean of the UCLA School of Dentistry, and his research team have been studying p53, a tumor suppressor protein known as "the guardian of the genome'' because of its involvement in DNA repair, cell cycle regulation and cellular deterioration.

"Looking at ways to maintain levels of p53 as one ages may provide a therapeutic clue to preventing cancer development,'' said Park, who is also a professor in the departments of dentistry and medicine at UCLA.

Previous studies have shown that p53 accumulates in large quantities as connective tissue cells, called fibroblasts, age and stop dividing. It has been believed that the accumulation of p53 causes cells to stop dividing, which prevents out-of-control cells from growing into tumors.

In a paper published by the journal Aging Cell, the researchers found that in epithelial cells lining the skin and the mouth, the level of p53 is reduced, rather than enhanced when cells age.

Epithelial cells line the major cavities of the body, including most organs, such as the mouth, stomach, small intestine, kidney, and pancreas.

The cells have a set level of p53 that provides protection from environmental factors and ensures their well-being. With less p53, older
epithelial cells have a harder time maintaining the integrity of their genetic material when they encounter carcinogens, which allows cancer to develop.

Park and his team also reported that in humans, the level of p53 in skin and mouth epithelial cells decreased with age by epigenetic -- external and environmental -- factors, not by the changes of the p53 DNA sequence.

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