OCT 28, 2021 3:00 AM PDT

NF-κB: a Trick or a Treat for Cancer?

WRITTEN BY: Katie Kokolus

A family of proteins, known as transcription factors, regulate the biological process of converting DNA into RNA. Transcription factors can speed up or slow down the rate of transcription, and they allow the expression of unique genes in different cell types.  

Nuclear Factor-kappa B (NF-κB) is a well-studied transcription factor that is highly involved in regulating genes engaged in physiological processes related to inflammation and immunity.  The complexity of NF-κB is evident through its diverse effects on the immune system, especially in the anti-tumor immune response.

NF-κB, under different conditions, can both promote cancer growth and act as a tumor suppressor.  An entire field of cancer research focuses on deciphering the positive and negative impacts of NF-κB.  Several pro- and anti-cancer effects are associated with NF-κB imploring the (seasonal) question: Is NF-κB a trick or a treat for cancer?

The “tricks”: NF-κB as a tumor promotor

Activation of NF-κB promotes cancer cell survival by inducing the expression of genes that prevent apoptosis, the programmed death of cancer cells. NF-κB can also help cancer cells live longer by inducing the production of an enzyme called telomerase which prolongs the life of a cell by preventing the shortening of DNA, which happens with age.  

Proto-oncogenes, genes that cause healthy cells to become cancerous, are also amplified by NF-κB. When proto-oncogenes are activated, they promote the rapid proliferation of cancer cells and fast-growing tumors. NF-κB also drives the production of inflammatory cytokines, and these factors directly stimulate tumor growth.  

NF-κB also helps cancer to spread to secondary organs, a process known as metastasis. Metastasis occurs when NF-κB regulates the expression of adhesion molecules, genes that allow cancer cells to migrate through the blood to distant sites throughout the body where secondary cancer begins to form. Further, cancer cells require nutrients to grow, and these factors reach the tumor via blood vessels. NF-κB regulates additional genes involved in angiogenesis, the biological process by which new blood vessels form.  

The “treats”: NF-κB as a tumor suppressor

Under certain circumstances, NF-κB can induce genes that promote apoptosis in cancer cells. NF-κB, when complexed with another gene, RelA, can stimulate the expression of apoptosis-inducing genes, such as Fas and Fas-ligand.  

NF-κB can downregulate molecules that promote cancer growth resulting in tumor suppression. There are reports of NF-κB recruiting another protein, p53, which inhibits tumor growth.  

An underappreciated benefit of NF-κB could be its use as a potential therapeutic target in novel therapies for cancer and other diseases. As our understanding of the paradoxical roles of NF-κB and the anti-tumor immune response deepens, ongoing research supporting the prevention and treatment of cancer will benefit.  

The true face of NF-κB is likely dependent on the types of immune cells present in the vicinity of the tumor. If many regulatory cells, like regulatory T cells (Tregs) and myeloid derived suppressor cells (MDSCs), the expression of NF-κB promotes pro-tumor mechanisms. In the presence of innate immune cells like Natural Killer (NK) cells and macrophages, NF-κB supports an anti-tumor setting.  

 

Sources: transcription factors, pro- and anti-cancer, apoptosis, telomerase, adhesion molecules, angiogenesis, RelA, Fas and Fas-ligand, p53, vicinity, therapies

 

About the Author
  • PhD in Tumor Immunology. I am interested in developing novel strategies to improve the efficacy of immunotherapies used to extend cancer survivorship.
You May Also Like
SEP 06, 2021
Cancer
A New Biomarker to Personalize Breast Cancer Therapy
SEP 06, 2021
A New Biomarker to Personalize Breast Cancer Therapy
The American Cancer Society estimates that over 280,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer ...
NOV 09, 2021
Microbiology
Can This Cat Parasite Become a Tumor Treatment?
NOV 09, 2021
Can This Cat Parasite Become a Tumor Treatment?
You may have heard of Toxoplasma gondii because it is so common. Cats carry this parasite, and anyone that cleans a litt ...
NOV 14, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
Cancer Drug Target Could Actually Worsen Disease
NOV 14, 2021
Cancer Drug Target Could Actually Worsen Disease
Cancer drugs have been developed that target an enzyme, Shp2. But that enzyme has a more complex role than we knew.
NOV 25, 2021
Cancer
Could an Anti-Cancer Drug Treat Diabetes?
NOV 25, 2021
Could an Anti-Cancer Drug Treat Diabetes?
Diabetes and cancer are two common diseases that share many similar risk factors. People with diabetes are also at& ...
DEC 02, 2021
Cancer
A New Method to Enhance Immunotherapy in Mouse Tumors
DEC 02, 2021
A New Method to Enhance Immunotherapy in Mouse Tumors
Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is the most common form of pancreatic cancer, accounting for about 90% of pancre ...
DEC 09, 2021
Cancer
Inflammation: Naughty or Nice List?
DEC 09, 2021
Inflammation: Naughty or Nice List?
Aulus Cornelius Celsus, a Roman physician, first identified the four major characteristics of inflammation in the first ...
Loading Comments...