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Tackling a hard-to-treat childhood cancer by targeting epigenetic changes
Date:11/3/2008

"The fusion protein modifies histones and turns on genes that are not supposed to be turned on, and that initiate the development of the cancer," says Armstrong. "If you could inhibit that abnormal histone modification, you might be able to reverse the tumorigenic properties of the fusion protein."

It appears this inhibition may be relatively simply to accomplish. The researchers went on to demonstrate that MLL-AF4 does its evil work by recruiting an enzyme called DOT1L, which modifies the histone H3 by attaching a methyl group to a particular amino acid. While MLL-AF4 itself would be difficult to target chemically, enzymes are generally fairly easy to target with small-molecule drugs. Simply by inhibiting DOT1L, a variety of critical genes that contribute to the malignancy could potentially be inhibited.

A pharmaceutical DOT1L inhibitor hasn't yet been found, but when the researchers suppressed DOT1L indirectly through RNA interference techniques, the abnormally activated genes were turned off.

"Based on these data, we are searching for small molecules or drugs that inhibit DOT1L," says Armstrong. "Reversal of histone modifications could be an important therapeutic approach for this and potentially other cancers."

Armstrong notes that there are already drugs in clinic that target enzymes that modify histones, namely histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors, which are used to treat a kind of lymphoma and are being tested in other cancers.


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Contact: Rob Graham
rob.graham@childrens.harvard.edu
617-919-3110
Children's Hospital Boston
Source:Eurekalert  

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