Researchers find new potential targets for skin-cancer treatment

Mutations of the gene MLL4 in epithelial skin cells can inhibit healthy cell turnover and may lead to keratinocyte cancers, which collectively outnumber all other human cancers. Targeting pathways altered by MLL4 mutations to induce proper cell turnover and death offers an approach to suppress tumor growth, according to a new study from the Perelman School of Medicine. The study is published in the journal Science Advances.

Microscopic view of skin tissue cells.

The gene MLL4 is one of the most commonly mutated genes across all of human cancers. Previous work has shown that MLL4 is linked to tumor suppression in a variety of cancers, but its role in skin cancer was unknown. In order to uncover how MLL4 influences cancer growth, researchers knocked out only this gene in the epithelial tissues in an animal model and found that skin cells proliferated, the skin thickened, and a form of normal skin cell turnover and death, called ferroptosis, was inhibited.

“Your skin cells need to be able to undergo cell death,” says Brian Capell, an assistant professor of dermatology and genetics and lead author of the study. “If cells don’t die and turn over, they stick around, continue to grow, and become cancerous. We saw that a loss of MLL4 impaired ferroptosis by activating genes that encourage tumor growth while simultaneously suppressing genes that prevent cancerous proliferation.”

To combat cancer-cell development in individuals with MLL4 genetic mutations, the researchers believe that specific medications that can promote ferroptosis may be a future way to inhibit cancer growth and encourage healthy cell turnover.

Read more at Penn Medicine News.