Scientists discovered an important molecular link between lung tumor growth and disrupted circadian rhythms, according to a new paper co-authored by a researcher at the University of Rochester Wilmot Cancer Institute and led by the Scripps Research Institute in California.
Circadian rhythms, sometimes called the “biological clock,” is the cellular process that governs your sleep-wake cycles. The World Health Organization has proclaimed that disturbed circadian rhythms are a probable carcinogen.
The latest research, published in the high-impact journal Progress of science, describes that when the circadian clock is deviated, it involves a characteristic cancer gene known as HSF1, which can trigger lung tumors. The lungs are under tight circadian control and appear to be particularly vulnerable to a disrupted biological clock.
The article describes in mouse models the role of HSF1 signalling, a previously unknown mechanism that may explain tumor formation in response to rhythm disruption.
The findings also suggest that it may be possible to target HSF1 with drug therapy, to prevent cancer among people with frequently disturbed circadian rhythms.
Although this study was done in mice, other data link circadian disruption to human tumors, said co-author Brian Altman, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biomedical genetics at the University of Rochester Medical Center and a faculty member of Wilmot.
“Everything points in the same direction,” he said. He noted that in this case, when circadian clocks in mice are disrupted by irregular sleep, for example, the results are highly relevant to people who work night shifts or rotating shifts.
Altman’s main contribution to the study was to provide expertise in a scientific method to assess how the circadian clock behaves in tissues. The Scripps team approached Altman for collaboration after seeing a presentation he gave at a scientific meeting on the use of the technique, which was invented in 2018 at Vanderbilt University by Jacob Hughey, Ph.D. Altman and his lab have focused on circadian rhythms and the connection to cancer for several years.
The lead author of the study is Katja Lamia, Ph.D., associate professor of Molecular Medicine at Scripps. The Scripps press release is here. Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.
Materials provided by University of Rochester Medical Center. Original written by Leslie Orr. Note: content can be edited for style and length.