Researchers pinpoint key regulatory role of noncoding genes in prostate cancer development

August 15, 2016
Micrograph showing prostatic acinar adenocarcinoma (the most common form of prostate cancer) Credit: Wikipedia

Prostate cancer researchers studying genetic variations have pinpointed 45 genes associated with disease development and progression.

Principal investigator Hansen He says the findings published online today in Nature Genetics show how these genes - known as "noncoding RNA" - function in activating the disease process. Dr. He, an epigeneticist, is a Scientist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network. He is also Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Biophysics, University of Toronto.

"Our research looked at genetic variations associated with prostate cancer and found that about half of these variations may function through noncoding genes rather than the protein-coding genes. In other words, we have discovered that noncoding RNA has a very important function in driving prostate cancer development and disease progression."

Dr. He says: "In prostate cancer there are more than 100 known risk regions associated with the development and progression of the disease but for most of them we don't know how. In our work, we found that half those risk regions may function through noncoding genes."

Dr. He says that integrating this new knowledge about genetic variations and the function of noncoding RNA moves the science closer to developing a clinical biomarker to advance personalized cancer medicine for patients by being able to predict who will develop prostate cancer and whether or not it will be aggressive.

The video will load shortly

The research team collaborated with the Princess Margaret Genome Centre and delved further into the genetic variations associated with noncoding RNA PCAT1, which is already known to be highly expressed in patients, to zero in on how the noncoding genes function.

"Noncoding RNA has many functions and in this study we found that PCAT1 functions as a kind of glue to attract different protein complexes together and guide them to specific genomic location to activate their target gene expression that starts the disease process.

"We are going to expand this knowledge as we research the other 44 genes associated with genetic variations," says Dr. He.

"Cancer is very smart to take every possible way to survive and use every piece of our genome. If research only focuses on the two percent of the genome that is the protein- coding genes, we will have limited understanding of how the cancer can survive. We cannot achieve personalized cancer medicine without understanding the other 98 percent of our genome."

The other 98 percent - what used to be called 'junk DNA' because it was outside the protein-coding genes with no known function - is now providing a treasure trove to epigeneticists such as Dr. He.

"The major contribution of our work is to the link genetic variations outside of the gene to noncoding genes rather than protein-coding , which have been the traditional research focus."

Explore further: 'Junk' DNA now center stage

More information: Modulation of long noncoding RNAs by risk SNPs underlying genetic predispositions to prostate cancer, nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/ng.3637

Related Stories

'Junk' DNA now center stage

January 20, 2016

The classes of RNA molecules encoded by DNA sequences previously considered non functional may play a vital role in cell stress responses, and could one day lead to cancer treatments. A*STAR researchers have identified a ...

A noncoding RNA promotes pediatric bone cancer

November 17, 2014

Ewing sarcoma is a cancer of bone or its surrounding soft tissue that primarily affects children and young adults. A hallmark of Ewing sarcoma is a translocation event that results in the fusion of an RNA binding protein, ...

Mechanism affecting risk of prostate cancer is found

January 10, 2014

A research group at Biocenter Oulu in Finland has identified a mechanism related to a transcription factor that binds much more strongly onto a particular SNP variant, thereby initiating a genetic programme which enhances ...

Recommended for you

Epigenetic factors linked to obesity-related disease

January 17, 2017

Obesity has been linked to "letter" changes at many different sites in the genome, yet these differences do not fully explain the variation in people's body mass index (BMI) or why some overweight people develop health complications ...

Are you ready to explore baby's genome?

January 17, 2017

When you have a baby, a nurse or a phlebotomist performs a heel stick to take a few drops of blood from your infant and sends it off to a state lab for a battery of tests. Most of the time, you never hear about the results ...

Study applies game theory to genomic privacy

January 17, 2017

It comes down to privacy—biomedical research can't proceed without human genomic data sharing, and genomic data sharing can't proceed without some reasonable level of assurance that de-identified data from patients and ...

0 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.