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Epigenetic study reveals new insights into breast cancer
Date:5/5/2011

The most comprehensive analysis yet of the epigenetic modifications present in breast cancer has revealed potentially important new ways to detect and treat the disease, Belgian researchers have reported.

Epigenetics is a term used to describe modifications to the DNA molecule that affect way its code is translated into proteins. These changes include methylation, a form of chemical modification.

Although researchers knew epigenetics was important in cancer, information about its exact contribution to breast carcinogenesis was scant, Dr Sarah Dedeurwaerder, from Universit Libre de Bruxelles, in Brussels, explained at the IMPAKT Breast Cancer Conference.

"Our goal was to assess the epigenetic differences between normal tissue and primary tumor samples on a genome-wide scale, similarly to what has been done for gene expression patterns," Dr Dedeurwaerder said. "Here, we provide a glimpse to what DNA methylation profiling of primary breast tumors might bring to our understanding of their biology and diversity that should contribute to better management of breast cancer patients."

The researchers performed a comprehensive DNA methylation profile on two independent sets of frozen breast tissue samples: a 'main set' of 123 samples, and a 'validation set' of 125 samples.

Their first finding was two major sub-types of breast cancer, defined according to whether the cancer expresses receptors for estrogen, are widely epigenetically controlled. "When we performed a clustering analysis of our samples based on their DNA methylation profiles, tumors segregated naturally into two distinct groups," Dr Dedeurwaerder said.

The first group was mainly composed of estrogen receptor-negative tumors, and the second one of estrogen receptor-positive tumors. "This indicates that ER-negative and ER-positive tumors have very different methylation profiles," she said.

"Furthermore, when we looked at more than 400 genes w
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Contact: Vanessa Pavinato
media@esmo.org
European Society for Medical Oncology
Source:Eurekalert

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