Research highlight

A small molecule with two ‘faces’

Nature Communications

February 22, 2012

A small RNA, whose main function is to disrupt the synthesis of proteins from DNA, has both tumour-suppressing and tumour-promoting effects in acute myeloid leukemia is reported in Nature Communications this week. These findings, suggest that caution is needed when designing drugs that target this specific molecule. Acute myeloid leukemia is a cancer of blood cells, whereby abnormal white blood cells accumulate in the bone marrow and interfere with the production of normal blood cells. The over-production of HOXA and MEIS1 proteins is believed to be one of the main causes of this type of cancer. Jianjun Chen and colleagues now show that a small RNA, called microRNA-196b, can disrupt the production of these oncogenic proteins. However, reported in Nature Communications this week they find that having too much of microRNA-196b causes a more aggressive form of this leukemia as it also interferes with production of proteins that promote the death of tumour cells. These results suggest that regulation of cancer cells by small molecules may be much more complex than previously thought. CONTACT Jianjun Chen (University of Chicago, IL, USA)Tel: +1 773 702 6788; E-mail:

doi: 10.1038/ncomms1681

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