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Researchers identify breast cancer culprits
Date:8/17/2010

Scientists have discovered an accomplice in breast cancer a master control switch with the power to set off a cascade of reactions orchestrated by a cancer-causing gene (or oncogene) named Wnt1. This executive molecule and its modus operandi are reported in back-to-back papers featured on the cover of the August 15 issue of Cancer Research.

"These papers are about the regulation of a Wnt oncogene," explains lead author Rakesh Kumar, Ph.D., professor and the Catharine Birch & William McCormick Chair of the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Now, Kumar and his team describe how a master switch sparks a type of Wnt signaling in breast cancer. Moreover, this master control switch may help explain why increased levels of a protein called MTA1 (metastasis-associated protein 1) are oncogenic in certain types of breast cancer.

Like many molecular pathways underlying cancer, Wnt pathways govern normal processes like embryonic development and the communication between cells in healthy people. For reasons little understood, however, certain types of Wnt proteins sometimes go awry, sending off cascades of signals that turn normal cells into cancerous ones. Researchers often find evidence of Wnt pathway activation when they analyze what genes are turned on in tumors. Although Wnt has been connected with breast cancer for nearly 30 years, however, the signals (other than mutations) that trigger it remain largely unknown.

Kumar and his team have implicated MTA1 and a shorter variation of the protein, MTA1s, in Wnt1 (a type of Wnt) pathway activation. MTA1 belongs to the MTA family of genes, which help a range of cancers progress in a variety of ways. Before this study, researchers knew that MTA1 levels were higher than normal in breast, ovarian, prostate, colorectal, gastric, liver tumors, and more. But they still didn't know everything about what MTA's
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Contact: Anne Banner
mcmacb@gwumc.edu
202-994-2261
George Washington University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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