Protein associated with childhood cancer alters the structure of DNA, leading to cancer

By Dianne G. Shaw

UNC scientists have demonstrated for the first time how a critical gene associated with a type of childhood cancer alters the way DNA is packaged in cells and leads to cancer. Their laboratory discovery could result in the development of a targeted therapy to treat Ewing Sarcoma, a malignant bone and soft tissue tumor of children and young adults.

Their findings are published in the Nov. 15, 2011 online edition of the journal Genome Research.

Genetic events in some sarcomas result in proteins that are composed of parts derived from different genes.  How these fusion proteins cause cancer in some cell types, but not others, is not understood.

The UNC team describes how the fusion protein – EWS-FLI1 – binds to unexpected sites in the genome of cancer cells, resulting in changes in the structure of DNA. These changes alter the regulation of many genes, beginning the genetic steps to cancer.

Ian Davis, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics and genetics and study senior author, explains, “Fusion proteins present a unique treatment opportunity since they exist only in tumor cells and not in normal cells. We are moving closer to understanding how they work specifically in cancer cells. The next steps are to determine if or how this process can be derailed by a drug.”

Related Stories

Researchers highlight new direction for drug discovery

Jul 05, 2009

In a discovery that rebuffs conventional scientific thinking, researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) have discovered a novel way to block the activity of the fusion protein responsible for Ewing's sarcoma, ...

Tracking the molecular pathway to mixed-lineage leukemia

Dec 15, 2008

Infants and adults with the blood cancer mixed-lineage leukemia (MLL) typically have a poor prognosis, and most infants die before their first birthdays. Although there are varying causes of MLL, most cases are caused by ...

Recommended for you

Science of romantic relationships includes gene factor

Nov 23, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—Adolescents worry about passing tests, winning games, lost phones, fractured bones—and whether or not they will ever really fall in love. Three Chinese researchers have focused on that ...

Stress reaction may be in your dad's DNA, study finds

Nov 21, 2014

Stress in this generation could mean resilience in the next, a new study suggests. Male mice subjected to unpredictable stressors produced offspring that showed more flexible coping strategies when under ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.