Leukemia defense: Y-chromosome offers ‘extra layer of protection’

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Two young girls with acute lymphocytic leukemia receiving chemotherapy. Image credit: National Cancer Institute

Scientists have discovered the first example of a gene that is only found in one sex and provides protection against cancers including an aggressive form of leukaemia.

The gene is only found on the Y chromosome which, until today, was thought to only carry genetic information that leads to an embryo developing as a male, rather than a female, foetus.

It appears to offer an extra layer of protection against acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), a development researchers at the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the University of Cambridge said changed the way the Y chromosome was viewed and could lead to new treatments.

The team studied the X-chromosome gene UTX in human cells and in mice to try to understand its role in AML. They found the loss of the UTX, which is known to be mutated in many tumours, hastens the development of AML.

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The researchers also found that UTY, a related gene on the Y chromosome, protected male mice that were lacking UTX against developing AML, because it can stand in and perform the role of UTX in preventing the unchecked growth of cells.

“Our study strengthens the argument that loss of the Y chromosome can increase the risk of cancer and describes a mechanism for how this may happen,” [says Professor Brian Huntly].

Editor’s note: Read full study (behind paywall)

Read full, original post: Scientists discover male-only gene that protects against leukaemia

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