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Definition of Proto-oncogene

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.

Source: MedTerms™ Medical Dictionary
http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=5088
Last Editorial Review: 6/14/2012

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