The Aurora-A kinase regulates cell division by phosphorylating multiple downstream targets in the mitotic apparatus. Aurora-A is frequently overexpressed in tumor cells and it is therefore regarded as a novel candidate target in anti-cancer therapy. Its actual contribution to cell transformation, however, is not entirely clarified; furthermore, its transforming ability has been found to vary broadly depending on the systems and experimental conditions in which it was assayed. This variability suggests that Aurora-A overexpression requires the concomitant deregulation of partner factor(s) to fully elicit its oncogenic potential. Molecular and structural studies indicate that the full activation and correct mitotic localisation of Aurora-A require its interaction with the spindle regulator TPX2. In this review we propose a brief reappraisal of Aurora-A intrinsic oncogenic features. We then present literature screening data indicating that TPX2 is also overexpressed in many tumor types, and, furthermore, that Aurora-A and TPX2 are frequently co-overexpressed. We therefore propose that the association of Aurora-A and TPX2 gives rise to a novel functional unit with oncogenic properties. We also suggest that some of the roles that are conventionally attributed to Aurora-A in cell transformation and tumorigenesis could in fact be a consequence of the oncogenic activation of this unit.
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