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Study sheds new light on role of genetic mutations in colon cancer development
Date:6/7/2012

SEATTLE In exploring the genetics of mitochondria the powerhouse of the cell researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have stumbled upon a finding that challenges previously held beliefs about the role of mutations in cancer development.

For the first time, researchers have found that the number of new mutations are significantly lower in cancers than in normal cells.

"This is completely opposite of what we see in nuclear DNA, which has an increased overall mutation burden in cancer," said cancer geneticist Jason Bielas, Ph.D., whose findings are published in the June 7 issue of PLoS Genetics.

Mutations are changes in the genetic sequence of a cell's genome and can occur as a result of environmental exposure to viruses, radiation and certain chemicals, or due to spontaneous errors during cell division or DNA replication.

Mitochondria, which are primarily responsible for the cell's energy production, are semi-autonomous; similar to the nucleus, they have their own set of DNA, which encodes genes critical for the functioning of the cell. While the role of genomic instability has been well characterized in nuclear DNA, this is the first attempt to determine whether instability in mitochondrial DNA may play a similar role in cancer growth and metastasis.

"We were surprised to find that the frequency of new mutations in mitochondrial DNA from tumor cells is decreased compared to that of normal cells," said Bielas, an assistant member of the Public Health Sciences and Human Biology divisions at the Hutchinson Center. "By extension, this suggests, somewhat counterintuitively, that higher mitcochondrial mutation rates may actually serve as a barrier to cancer development, and drugs that focus directly on increasing mitochondrial DNA damage and mutation might swap cancer's immortality for accelerated aging and tumor-cell death."

For the study, the researchers used using an ultra-sensitive test to detect mutations in mitoch
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Contact: Kristen Woodward
kwoodwar@fhcrc.org
206-667-5095
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Source:Eurekalert

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