Development of the cancer protein Ki-67 is discovered in Leipzig, Germany

In pathology, the protein Ki-67 is used to analyse conspicuous tissue changes. Researchers have discovered how this helpful protein is formed.

Benign or malignant tumour disease?

In pathology, the protein Ki-67 is used to analyse conspicuous tissue changes. Researchers at the
Universität Leipzig (Leipzig University, Germany) have now discovered how the helpful protein is formed.

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Physicians are often faced with the question of whether a tumour is benign or malignant. Usually, a pathologist then examines a tissue sample for changes compared to the normal picture. The presence of a protein called Ki-67 is regularly checked. The more Ki-67 in the sample, the more frequently the cells of the tissue divide. After examining the tissue characteristics, a decision is made as to whether there is a benign change or whether action needs to be taken because of a malignant tumour. Ki-67 has been used for such standard examinations worldwide for more than thirty years.

The decisive property of this protein is its occurrence in the cells of a tissue during division. This is because Ki-67 is always produced when a cell divides. "Although it is precisely this property that is central to its importance in tumour diagnostics, it was previously unknown how this specific emergence occurs," explains Kurt Engeland, Professor of Molecular Oncology at the Faculty of Medicine, Leipzig University. His research team at the University Women's Hospital has now elucidated the formation and regulation of Ki-67 and published the results in the current issue of Cell Death & Differentiation.

Protein DREAM plays decisive role

The researchers led by Prof. Engeland describe that the production of Ki-67 is suppressed in tissuesthat do not grow. This suppression of Ki-67 production is mediated by a protein called DREAM. The function of DREAM is in turn related to the protein p53, the best-known tumour suppressor. Tumour suppressors inhibit the development of cancer. Researchers at the Leipzig University Hospital (in German: Universit√§tsklinikum Leipzig)  have discovered how the production of Ki-67 is controlled by DREAM.

In tumour tissue, there is increased cell division and Ki-67 synthesis because DREAM and other factors lose their cell division inhibiting function and usually the tumour suppressor p53 does not take effect. Prof. Engeland says: "Through our research, we have now shown how Ki-67 is produced in dividing cells and why the protein is so useful for cancer diagnostics."

Uxa et al, Ki-67 gene expression, Cell Death Differ. 2021;