Developmental Biology

Unraveling the mystery of thalidomide

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Science  14 Sep 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6407, pp. 1084-1085
DOI: 10.1126/science.361.6407.1084-c

Off-label use of thalidomide became a worldwide trend in the 1950s and early 1960s to alleviate morning sickness. It resulted in a historical tragedy, as thousands of babies were born with severe birth defects. Donovan et al. may have found a missing link to explain how the drug affects fetal development. The researchers show that thalidomide and closely related drugs rapidly degrade the transcription factor Sal-like protein 4 (SALL4), which is necessary for fetal limb and organ formation. Adding further weight to their findings, certain individuals with mutations in the SALL4 gene develop abnormalities that resemble thalidomide-induced birth defects.

eLife 7, e38430 (2018).

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