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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2011 Jan;1815(1):26-43. doi: 10.1016/j.bbcan.2010.10.001. Epub 2010 Oct 16.

NUMB-ing down cancer by more than just a NOTCH.

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Fondazione Istituto FIRC di Oncologia Molecolare, Via Adamello 16, 20139, Milan, Italy.


The protein Numb does not live up to its name. This passive-sounding protein is anything but spent. Originally identified as a cell-fate determinant in Drosophila development, Numb received a good deal of attention as an inhibitor of the Notch receptor signaling pathway. It turns out, however, that Numb does a lot more than simply regulate Notch. It has been implicated in a variety of biochemical pathways connected with signaling (it regulates Notch-, Hedgehog- and TP53-activated pathways), endocytosis (it is involved in cargo internalization and recycling), determination of polarity (it interacts with the PAR complex, and regulates adherens and tight junctions), and ubiquitination (it exploits this mechanism to regulate protein function and stability). This complex biochemical network lies at the heart of Numb's involvement in diverse cellular phenotypes, including cell fate developmental decisions, maintenance of stem cell compartments, regulation of cell polarity and adhesion, and migration. Considering its multifaceted role in cellular homeostasis, it is not surprising that Numb has been implicated in cancer as a tumor suppressor. Our major goal here is to explain the cancer-related role of Numb based on our understanding of its role in cell physiology. We will attempt to do this by reviewing the present knowledge of Numb at the biochemical and functional level, and by integrating its apparently heterogeneous functions into a unifying scenario, based on our recently proposed concept of the "endocytic matrix". Finally, we will discuss the role of Numb in the maintenance of the normal stem cell compartment, as a starting point to interpret the tumor suppressor function of Numb in the context of the cancer stem cell hypothesis.

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