The role of translation in neoplastic transformation from a pathologist's point of view

Oncogene. 2004 Apr 19;23(18):3230-47. doi: 10.1038/sj.onc.1207552.


Increased cell proliferation, which is a hallmark of aggressive malignant neoplasms, requires a general increase in protein synthesis and a specific increase in the synthesis of replication-promoting proteins. Transient increase in the general protein synthesis rate, as well as preferential translation of specific mRNAs coding for growth promoting proteins (e.g. cyclin D1), takes place during normal mitogenic response. A number of extensively studied growth signal transduction pathways (Ras, PI3K, MAPK, mTOR-dependent pathways) activate the function and expression of various components of the translational machinery. In abnormal situations, constitutive activation of signal transduction pathways (e.g. oncogenic activation of Ras or Myc) leads to continuous upregulation of key elements of translational machinery. On the other hand, tumor suppressor genes (p53, pRb) downregulate ribosomal and tRNA synthesis, and their inactivation results in uncontrolled production of these translational components. During recent years, a significant effort has been dedicated to determining whether expression of translation factors is increased in human tumors using clinical biopsy specimens. The results of these studies indicate that expression of particular translation initiation factors is not always increased in human neoplasms. The pattern of expression is characteristic for a particular tumor type. For example, eIF-4E is usually increased in bronchioloalveolar carcinomas but not in squamous cell carcinomas of the lung. Interestingly, in certain highly proliferative and aggressive neoplasms (e.g. squamous cell carcinoma of the lung, melanoma), the expression of eIF-4E is barely detectable. These findings suggest that mechanisms for increasing general protein synthesis in various neoplasms differ significantly. Finally, the possibility of qualitative alterations in the translational machinery, rather than a simple increase in the activity of its components, is discussed along with the possibility of targeting those qualitative differences for tumor therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Cell Division
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic*
  • Eukaryotic Initiation Factor-2 / physiology
  • Eukaryotic Initiation Factor-4E / physiology
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Protein Biosynthesis*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc / physiology
  • Retinoblastoma Protein / physiology
  • Signal Transduction
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / physiology
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / physiology


  • Eukaryotic Initiation Factor-2
  • Eukaryotic Initiation Factor-4E
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc
  • Retinoblastoma Protein
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53