When the MDM2 gene acts with a specific protein found in cancer cells’ mitochondria, it can lead to cancer cell death. The study which discovered this fact, published by Mount Sinai researchers in Molecular Cell journal, could open new treatment opportunities for cancer patients in the future.

The role and function of MDM2 was previously unknown to scientists, partly because it is characterised both as an oncogene and a tumour suppressor.

The researchers studied human cancer cells, fruit flies and genetically-engineered mice to find that extra copies of MDM2 occurring in cancer disrupts cellular processes. Particularly, MDM2 was found to react with a protein found in cancer cells’ mitochondria and eventually causes cancer cell death.

The team also found that the nutlin-3A therapy enhanced interactions between MDM2 and the mitochondrial protein, aiding in the killing of cancer cells. From this, they surmise that MDM2 could be used to targeted to spur on cancer cell death.

Lead investigator Jerry Chipuk, Associate Professor of Oncological Sciences, and Dermatology, and Associate Director for Basic Science Shared Resources at the Tisch Cancer Institute, said that: “Future research should involve delving into MDM2 biology and its pharmacological regulation and examining cellular respiration and mitochondrial dynamics.

“Understanding the exact nature of the cellular responses to MDM2-induced stress will help advance our efforts to develop concrete therapeutic treatments for cancer.”