Cancer fighting gene helps prevent female birth defects

Cancer fighting gene helps prevent female birth defects

Illuminate newsletter index page, June 2019
June 2019


Study leads (L-R) Associate Professor Anne Voss and
Professor Andreas Strasser.

The tumour suppressor gene p53, famous throughout scientific literature for its role in protecting us from cancer, is surprisingly also critical for neural tube development in females.

Healthy neural tube development enables the brain and the spinal cord to form properly in developing embryos.

Study co-lead Professor Andreas Strasser said the research, published in the journal Cell Reports, showed how p53 influenced the function of genes required for the production of healthy neural tube cells in preclinical studies.

“Healthy development is a very precise and precariously balanced process."

"p53 helps with this balancing act in the female embryo by producing normal levels of Xist RNA, part of an intricate molecular process important for X chromosome inactivation in cells from females. In turn, X chromosome inactivation is essential for healthy neural tube development in females,” he said.

The research has helped to explain why neural tube birth defects, such as spina bifida, are significantly more common in females than in males because females are at greater risk of the early developmental process going awry.

About X inactivation

Super Content: 
Animation still showing X inactivation

WEHI.TV animation: X inactivation is a vital process that occurs in all DNA-containing cells of the female body. It is also an important research model and tool for studying epigenetics.

Three researchers in the laboratory

Institute researchers have led a study suggesting that abnormalities in cell death (apoptosis) could be linked to common birth defects including spina bifida.

Animation still showing cells changing

Our biomedical animation team explains the discoveries made by scientists through 3D animation.