Surprising discoveries on CAAX proteins

Martin Bergö’s research on CAAX proteins has proved relevant to several diseases, such as cancer, rheumatism, cardiovascular disease and accelerated ageing. His discovery that antioxidants accelerate growth of existing tumours resonated across the globe in 2015.

Professor Martin Bergö. Photo: Bildmakarna
Martin Bergö, photo: Bildmakarna

Every cell in our bodies contains so-called CAAX proteins, which are needed for the cell to function and divide. Martin Bergö researches the details of CAAX protein formation, and how the manipulation of this process could be used to treat disease.

“Our main interests are cancer, accelerated ageing, inflammation, and heart disease” says Professor Bergö.

After several unexpected discoveries, his research now follows a number of different lines of inquiry. The latest was the news that antioxidants, generally known for their ability to prevent cancer, actually fuel tumour growth and metastasis once the disease is established. The finding received considerable media attention around the world in the spring of 2014 and autumn of 2015.

“We’ve shown that antioxidants worsen both lung cancer and malignant melanoma in mice,” says Professor Bergö. “The explanation is simple: antioxidants are good for all cells, including cancerous ones. After our articles, similar results have been published by many different research groups, and the results provide ideas for new strategies to target cancer cells.”

Disabled an enzyme

Another surprising discovery was made when Professor Bergö disabled an enzyme in order to define its function, and later found that he had created a mouse model of progeria – accelerated ageing.

“This has helped us understand more about progeria in humans, and led to a new potential therapy, which in experiments on mice has looked promising,” he says. “While it is not a cure as such, it markedly slows down the progression of the disease.”

Professor Bergö is now establishing a new research environment at KI, and will continue for a transitional period to lead his research group at Gothenburg University’s Sahlgrenska Academy.

Martin Bergö is a Professor of Molecular Medicine at the Department of Biosciences and Nutrition, Karolinska Institutet

More about his research

Text: Anders Nilsson, first published in "From Cell to Society" 2016.

View a video