Research Highlights

New playmaker in breast cancer metastasis revealed

Published online 29 May 2017

Primary and metastatic breast cancers can be stunted by depleting the UBR5 protein.

Islam Elkholi

Scientists have uncovered new roles for the enzyme known as UBR5 in advancing primary and metastatic breast cancers. 

Metastasis, the process by which cancer cells spread from the primary site to other organs to form new masses, counts for the majority of cancer-caused deaths. In this study, scientists from China, Qatar and the USA are demonstrating the potential of the UBR5 protein as a leading actor in the development of the triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), the most aggressive subtype of breast cancers1

By analyzing patients' samples, the team found that the gene coding UBR5 is amplified and highly expressed in TNBC. 

Depleting UBR5 in a mouse model of breast cancer hindered not only the growth of the primary tumour but also the development of metastatic masses in the common sites of metastasis such as the lungs and the liver.  

Interestingly, the research team also showed that the UBR5 cancer-promoting actions might be dependent on its interaction with the immune cells in the tumour microenvironment. 

"The essential activities of UBR5 in the development of multiple major cancers provide rationale of UBR5 as a therapeutic target," says co-author Xiaojing Ma from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in the USA.

"Innovative therapeutic strategies targeting UBR5 in synergy with conventional therapy might be effective in treating several major aggressive cancers in the near future," adds Ma.


  1. Liao, L. et al. E3 ubiquitin ligase UBR5 drives the growth and metastasis of triple negative breast cancer. Cancer Res. (2017).