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A genetic 'gang of 4' drives spread of breast cancer

Institute for Research in Biomedecine in Spain, focused on four of these genes. These genes, which code for proteins called epiregulin, COX2, and matrix metalloproteinases 1 and 2, were already known to help regulate growth and remodeling of blood vessels, said Massagué.

"Our understanding of the genes for these four proteins and their behavior in metastasis led us to hypothesize that they might be cooperating with each other in a way that would give an advantage to cells in the primary tumor," said Massagué. "These same genes, we believed, might also be used for some related purpose in the target organ, the lung."

To test this idea, the researchers silenced various combinations of the four genes in human breast cancer cells that had metastasized to the lung, and then tested these cells in mice. To silence the four genes, the scientists used a technique called RNA interference, in which RNA molecules are tailored to suppress expression of target genes.

"We found that depriving aggressive metastatic tumor cells of these genes decreased both their ability to grow large aggressive tumors in the mouse mammary gland and also the ability to release cells from these tumors into the circulation," said Massagué. "The remarkable thing was that while silencing these genes individually was effective, silencing the quartet nearly completely eliminated tumor growth and spread."

Microscopic analysis of blood vessel structure in the tumors revealed that knocking down all four genes greatly reduced growth of the tangle of blood vessels typically seen in tumors. Further experiments revealed that the tumor blood vessels that did form allowed fewer cancer cells to escape into circulation.

The researchers next explored how loss of the four abnormal genes affected the metastatic capability of the cells in the lung. They injected cells deficient in the four genes directly into the circulatory system of mice. "When these cells reached the lung c
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Source:Howard Hughes Medical Institute


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