Researchers confirm genetic alteration that triggers prostate cancer

Study finds that a particular molecular change initiates cancer growth in mice and humans
Dr. Pete Nelson
Dr. Pete Nelson Human Biology Division

A molecular change found in human prostate cancers triggers the growth of prostate cancer in mice and in human cell lines. The findings by a team of researchers led by Drs. Valeri Vasioukhin and Pete Nelson, both of the Human Biology Division, were published Jan. 28 online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A significant proportion of human prostate cancers carry a chromosomal rearrangement that results in the overexpression of the ETS transcription factor ERG, a protein that controls gene expression. Until now, the functional significance of this event has been poorly understood.

Dr. Valeri Vasioukhin
Dr. Valeri Vasioukhin Human Biology Division

Studying prostate cells in transgenic mice, Vasioukhin, Nelson and colleagues at the Hutchinson Center and the University of Washington found that up-regulation of ERG transcript initiates cancer growth. They found a similar effect in human prostate cells. They hypothesize that up-regulation of ERG in human prostate cancer activates cell-invasion programs, causing the displacement of basal cells by neoplastic epithelium, or cancerous tissue. As such, they suggest that ERG should be considered as a target for prostate-cancer prevention or early therapeutic intervention.

The study received funding from the National Cancer Institute, the Pacific Northwest Prostate Cancer SPORE (Specialized Programs of Research Excellence) and the U.S. Department of Defense.

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