Medical Definition of Proto-oncogene

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Proto-oncogene: A normal gene which, when altered by mutation, becomes an oncogene that can contribute to cancer. Proto-oncogenes may have many different functions in the cell. Some proto-oncogenes provide signals that lead to cell division. Other proto-oncogenes regulate programmed cell death (apoptosis).

The defective versions of proto-oncogenes, known as oncogenes, can cause a cell to divide in an unregulated manner. This growth can occur in the absence of normal growth signals such as those provided by growth factors. A key feature of oncogene activity is that a single altered copy leads to unregulated growth.

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Last Editorial Review: 1/25/2017

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