Jena. In mid-January 2024, the Friedrich Schiller University Jena made an important discovery public: A team of researchers from the universities of Jena and Shenzhen (China), as well as the Jena University Hospital, decoded a molecular mechanism that plays a crucial role in the development of breast cancer. Interestingly, this mechanism is mediated by the so-called long non-coding RNA PAPAS. These findings might pave the way for new diagnostics an treatments for breast cancer, as well as for other types of cancer.
The project was led by Dr. Holger Bierhoff, whose research group "Epigenetics of Aging" is also associated with the Leibniz Institute on Aging – Fritz Lipmann Institute (FLI). His team employed RNA sequencing with the support of the FLI to systematically examine the gene expression of breast cancer cells in relation to the PAPAS RNA. The published findings revealed that PAPAS can suppress both the growth and metastasis of breast cancer cells.
The data also provided another insight that could be relevant not only for the university project but also for aging research at the FLI: "We now know that PAPAS controls cell growth but is also necessary for the correct differentiation of cells. This raises the intriguing question of whether PAPAS plays a role not only in cancer development but also in aging." A disrupted function of the non-coding RNA with advancing age could lead to cells not fulfilling their tasks properly and becoming more prone to degeneration. This connection needs to be further investigated. Are PAPAS or the downstream molecular mechanism deregulated with age? A promising approach would be to study PAPAS in model organisms of aging research, such as the nematode or the short-lived killifish, which are already established at the FLI.