One group of small, non-coding RNA molecules could serve as a marker to improve cancer staging and may also be able to convert some advanced tumors to more treatable stages, report a University of Chicago-based research team in the April 1, 2008, issue of the journal Genes & Development.
Carcinomas are cancers that develop from epithelial tissue, which lines internal and external body surfaces. When normal cells are transformed into cancer cells, this epithelial tissue can take on the characteristics of embryonic tissue, known as mesenchymal tissue, which is comprised of unspecialized cells that will develop, as the embryo matures, into more specialized tissues.
That process also goes in reverse. Epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) occurs, for example, during wound healing. In cancer, however, this process can produce invasive and mobile cells that can pass through membranes and travel to distant sites, where they seed new tumors.
"There are a bewildering numbers of pathways or stimuli that can either trigger EMT or reverse that process," said study author Marcus E. Peter, PhD, professor in the Ben May Department for Cancer Research at the University of Chicago. "What we have identified is a master regulator of EMT that is probably controlled by many of these stimuli."
Peter and colleagues showed that this master regulator consists of a specific group of microRNAs, a family called miR-200. MicroRNAs are tiny RNA molecules that have very important roles in gene regulation. They have multiple targets and act mainly by attaching themselves to specific sites in messenger RNA to prevent the production of proteins.
The authors studied a standard panel of 60 established human tumor cell lines representing nine different human cancers, as well as several specimens of human primary ovarian cancer. They showed that miR-200 was always present in epithelial (less invasive) and not in mesenchymal (more invasive) types of t
|Contact: John Easton|
University of Chicago Medical Center