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RNA snippet suppresses spread of aggressive breast cancer
Date:6/15/2009

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (June 11, 2009) A low cellular level of a tiny fragment of RNA appears to increase the spread of breast cancer in mouse models of the disease, according to researchers at Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research.

Measuring levels of this so-called microRNA, which is also associated with metastatic breast cancer in humans, may more accurately predict the likelihood of metastasis (which accounts for 90% of cancer-related deaths) and ultimately help determine patient prognoses.

In the study, whose results are reported in the June 12 issue of Cell, Scott Valastyan, a graduate student in Whitehead Member Robert Weinberg's laboratory, screened patient breast cancer samples for microRNAs with potential roles in metastasis. MicroRNAs are single strands of RNA about 21-23 nucleotides long. Within a cell, a single microRNA can fine-tune the expression of dozens of genes simultaneously. This capability could be particularly important in metastasis, a multi-step process that could be influenced by a single microRNA at several points.

The screened samples were classified as either metastatic cancer or non-metastatic cancer. After analysis, the microRNA miR-31 stood out because of its inverse correlation with metastasis. In samples where a patient's original tumor had not metastasized, the cancer cells retained high levels of the microRNA. But where the tumor had metastasized, the cancer cells came to possess lower levels of miR-31.

The functional role of miR-31 in metastasis regulation was then confirmed in mice. When Valastyan removed miR-31 from normally non-aggressive breast cancer cells and implanted those cells into mice, the cells formed highly aggressive tumors. Mice injected with the cancer cells lacking miR-31 had 6 to 10 times more cancer cells that metastasized to their lungs than did their counterparts implanted with unmodified cancer cells.

To see how increasing miR-31 levels could affec
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Contact: Nicole Giese
giese@wi.mit.edu
617-258-6851
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
Source:Eurekalert

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