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Silenced genes as a warning sign of blood cancer
Date:8/4/2009

In many types of cancer, parts of the genetic material of tumor cells are switched off by chemical labels called methyl groups. This kind of methyl labeling ranges among the epigenetic changes that do not change the sequence of DNA building blocks. Such labels are found particularly often in genes which act as important inhibitors of pathogenic cell growth.

Cancer researchers do not know why healthy cells and cancer cells differ in their methylation patterns and why it is particularly the cancer inhibitors that are frequently switched off. The study of these questions is a very promising area of research, because there are drugs available that can prevent the attachment of methyl groups or other epigenetic changes and, thus, at least delay the onset of cancer.

Professor Dr. Christoph Plass at the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) has investigated, jointly with colleagues from the Ohio State University in Columbus, U.S.A., the processes leading to the different methyl labels in cancer cells. A key question is when the first labels occur in the development of cancer. In their recently published study the investigators used mice affected by chronic lymphocytic leukemia as a model for studying the disease.

The researchers investigated the genetic material of these mice at regular intervals from birth. They discovered first cancer-typical methylation patterns in mice that were only three months old. This means that deviations in methylation occur long before the first signs of disease appear. These were not observed before the animals were thirteen months old. Moreover, the researchers were able to show that methylation patterns in murine DNA are largely corresponding to those found in humans suffering from leukemia. This confirms that the mouse model is suitable for studying the disease.

"Since first deviations in methylation occur so early in mice, we should find out whether this is also true
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Contact: Dr. Sibylle Kohlstaedt
s.kohlstaedt@dkfz.de
Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres
Source:Eurekalert

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