By Rebecca Moore

Researchers at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre have found a regulatory gene believed to be crucial in understanding the regenerative mechanisms of tissues. Known as Sox4 gene, researchers believe that this gene may provide a link between stem cells, aging, and cancer: three elements thought to be interconnected.

Sox4 gene is mainly expressed during the embryonic development phase. This gene plays a vital role in the development of the heart, bones, pancreas and differentiation of lymphocytes. Moreover, researchers have classified Sox4 gene as an oncogene, due to its involvement in rapid reproduction of cells and supression of apoptosis.

In order to test the link between Sox4 gene and stem cells, researchers conducted a study in which they deactivated the gene in the hair follicle stem cells of mice. The results showed that the repair mechanism in mice was inhibited and that their skin aged prematurely. From these results researchers drew the conclusion that the activity of stem cells decreases if Sox4 gene is absent. In addition, when researchers studied mice with low levels of Sox4 gene, the mice presented with accelerated aging, yet cancer resistance.

Despite these findings, researchers still have not been able to draw a definitive link between cancer and the absence of Sox4 gene. One explanation proposed is that the presence of Sox4 gene leads to a lower rates of tissue regeneration, whereby Sox4 gene acts as a cancer-inhibiting mechanism. This proposed conclusion implies that there is a delicate balance between the level of Sox4 gene and its resulting influences on aging and cancer.

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