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FOXO transcription factors in ageing and cancer


E. L. Greer, Department of Genetics, 300 Pasteur Drive, Alway M314, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA. E-mail:


Ageing is associated with an increased onset of cancer. Understanding the molecular mechanisms that underlie the age dependency of cancer will have important implications for preventing and treating this pathology. The signalling pathway connecting insulin and FOXO transcription factors provides the most compelling example for a conserved genetic pathway at the interface between ageing and cancer. FOXO transcription factors (FOXO) promote longevity and tumour suppression. FOXO transcription factors are directly phosphorylated in response to insulin/growth factor signalling by the protein kinase Akt, thereby causing their sequestration in the cytoplasm. In the absence of insulin/growth factors, FOXO factors translocate to the nucleus where they trigger a range of cellular responses, including resistance to oxidative stress, a phenotype highly coupled with lifespan extension. FOXO factors integrate stress stimuli via phosphorylation, acetylation and mono-ubiquitination of a series of regulatory sites. Understanding how FOXO proteins integrate environmental conditions to control specific gene expression programmes will be pivotal in identifying ways to slow the onset of cancer in ageing individuals.