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Loss of gene leads to protein splicing and buildup of toxic proteins in neurons

Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville

Thursday, September 27, 2007

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Researchers at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville have discovered how loss of a gene can lead to accumulation of toxic proteins in the brain, resulting in a common dementia, and they say this mechanism may be important in a number of age-related neurological disorders.

In the Sept. 26 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, the scientists demonstrate that absence of a gene known as progranulin leads to errant splicing of a protein that usually operates within the nucleus of a nerve cell (neuron). When cut these proteins move into the body of the cell, and begin to stick together and form a thicket that grows, eventually disrupting the normal functioning of the neuron, the researchers say.

Clumps of this protein, TDP-43, have been found in a number of older age dementias, including Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), Frontal Temporal Dementia (FTD), and in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Not only does the study potentially explain why TDP-43 pathology is present in a number of neurodegenerative diseases, it also offers new research routes to take in looking for beneficial treatments, says the study’s lead investigator, Leonard Petrucelli, Ph.D. “Our work opens opportunities on possible future therapeutic applications, from approaches to novel drug discovery to the continued exploration of cell survival systems,” he says.

Mayo investigators filled in this piece of the dementia puzzle by exploring possible connections between two recent ground-breaking discoveries. In July, 2006, Mayo researchers reported in Nature that a form of FTD not caused by tau accumulation in neurons was due to mutations in the progranulin gene. Progranulin produces a protein that helps neurons survive, and so far, the research group has found more than 40 different mutations in the gene can directly cause FTD.

The second study, reported in October, 2006, in Science by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, found that the protein clogging brains of patients with FTD and ALS is TDP-43. The protein was recovered from post-mortem brain tissue and was found only in areas affected by the diseases. For example, in ALS patients it was found in the spinal cord motor neurons which control movement, and in patients with FTD, which is second most common form of dementia in people under age 65, clumps of TDP-43 were found in the frontal and temporal lobes which control the judgment and thought process disrupted in the disease. In its normal state, TDP-43 is believed to help genes produce proteins.

In this study, Mayo researchers investigated whether progranulin is involved in TDP-43 processing. Suppressing progranulin expression in neurons led to accumulation of TDP-43 fragments, they found, and further discovered that this cleavage depends on the caspase 3 enzyme. Caspases cut other proteins and thus play a crucial role in pushing a cell to die when it needs to. It makes sense that these caspase might be activated when progranulin is mutated, Dr. Petrucelli says, because loss of progranulin can activate cell death signaling. “We are now looking into how mutations in progranulin leads to an increase in caspase activity,” he says. “Progranulin could be acting a protective chaperone where it binds to TDP-43, and may protect it from cleavage.”

Theoretically, suppression of caspase 3 might stop the cutting and accumulation of TDP-43, but such a strategy could not work clinically given that caspases are needed throughout the body for normal functioning, Dr. Petrucelli says. “However, it might be possible to identify other compounds that specifically prevent the fragmentation and redistribution of TDP-43, and that is an issue we are now studying.”

At this point, researchers don’t know if progranulin mutations are present in ALS or in AD.

The study was funded by the Mayo Clinic Foundation and by the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health. In this study, Yong-Jie Zhang, Ph.D., and Ya-fei Xu, M.D., both of whom contributed equally as first authors, and other Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, contributors include Dennis Dickson, M.D., and Rachel Bailey, B.S. Other authors include Chad Dickey, Ph.D., from the University of South Florida; Emanuele Buratt,i Ph.D., and Francisco Baralle, M.D., from the International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in Trieste, Italy; and Stuart Pickering-Brown, Ph.D., from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom.

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To obtain the latest news releases from Mayo Clinic, go to http://www.mayoclinic.org/news. MayoClinic.com (www.mayoclinic.com) is available as a resource for your health stories.

Journalists:
For more information, contact:

Kevin Punsky

904-953-2299 (days)
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September 27, 2007 Posted by | Alzheimers, Dementia, Genes, Genetic, Genetics, Global Health Vision, Global News, Mayo Clinic, News, RSS Feed | 3 Comments

Collaborative Cross attracting diverse genetics experiments

News Release

Media Contact: Ron Walli
Communications and External Relations
865.576.0226

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Aug. 29, 2007 — Mice that are part of the Collaborative Cross project at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are helping scientists around the world learn more about possible causes of drug abuse, diabetes, sleep disorders, stress and pain, kidney disease and a number of other conditions that affect millions of people.

The Collaborative Cross, begun in 2005 with a grant from the Ellison Medical Foundation, represents a fundamentally new way of conducting genetics research and aims to create 1,000 strains of mice that feature the genetic diversity of the world population. When completed in about five years, the research community will have access to an extremely versatile resource plus data that is the click of a mouse away. There will be other benefits as well.

“With our new facility at ORNL, we offer economies of scale for the production of populations of mice,” said Elissa Chesler, leader of the systems genetics group in the Biosciences Division. “Without having to maintain their own mouse colonies, researchers will have access to mice that will enable them to do experiments that cannot be done anywhere else.”

While conventional genetics studies have primarily involved stand-alone experiments aimed at discovering single gene variants, the Collaborative Cross represents the new approach that researchers say is necessary to develop a community resource for understanding the genetic and environmental complexity of human diseases. With this approach, using a reference population that allows for high genetic diversity and large sample size, researchers can more effectively examine combinations of genes responsible for diseases. This combination is what makes the Collaborative Cross special.

“We can stop blaming single genes for causing diseases,” Chesler said. “We now know that bad combinations of normal genes are at fault, and this mouse population will make it possible to determine complex causes and to develop drugs to treat those diseases.”

In one experiment at ORNL, William Lariviere of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine hopes to find genes that cause some people to be more sensitive to pain than others and to identify new drugs for treatment of different types of pain. The study involves collecting a standard set of thermal, chemical, inflammatory and mechanical sensitivity measures in groups of mice from 80 different lines in a genetic reference population called the BXD lines.

Data from Lariviere’s study will form an important foundation for integrative genomic analysis of pain. The results will be placed in the public domain through Web resource http://www.genenetwork.org.

“The BXD lines are a powerful tool for integration, but they do not have maximum precision and genetic diversity,” Lariviere said. “For that, we will collect additional trait data in the Collaborative Cross mouse population being created at ORNL.”

One area of specific interest to Lariviere is variations in the amount of messenger RNA (mRNA) produced by different individuals. This often determines how much of a particular protein is made, and that in turn might be related to biological pathways that are involved in processes such as pain perception.

“Because we will measure both the mRNA levels and the sensitivity levels in the same strains of mice, we will be able to efficiently not only study the genes that cause individual differences in pain sensitivity, but also identify the pathway of genes that make ideal targets for new pain drugs,” Lariviere said.

In another study, Michael Miles of Virginia Commonwealth University leads a team that hopes to learn more about the connection between anxiety and alcoholism. Working with Alex Putman and Chesler, the researchers have identified a region of a mouse chromosome that appears to significantly alter the effects of alcohol on anxiety.

“Understanding the basic mechanisms connecting brain events in anxiety and alcoholism could lead to better treatments for both disorders,” Miles said.

In this study, researchers used special strains of mice being raised and maintained at ORNL. Miles noted that the strains of mice used for his study are not available through any commercial source and offer a “great advantage to genetic studies of complex diseases.”

In upcoming months the researchers hope to identify the actual genes in this chromosome region that alter the response to alcohol.

In another study, Bruce O’Hara of the University of Kentucky is working to identify sleep- and wake-related genes. In addition to gaining a more thorough understanding of the sleep process, this research could lead to better drugs to help people with sleep disorders.

O’Hara’s study takes advantage of noninvasive piezoelectric sensors instead of conventional techniques that use electroencephalogram and eletromyogram recordings, which require surgical implants and cables that tether the mouse to a recording device. This limitation has made it impractical to study large numbers of animals, which is necessary in genetic screening, according to O’Hara.

These and other experiments are housed in ORNL’s Laboratory for Comparative Functional Genomics, a pathogen-free 36,000-square-foot facility that is home to approximately 30,000 mice. The lab, completed in 2004, boasts accommodations for 80,000 mice, cryogenic storage and other state-of-the-art features.

UT-Battelle manages Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the Department of Energy. Funding for the mouse facility is provided by DOE’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research within the Office of Science. The Ellison Medical Foundation supports basic biomedical research on aging relevant to understanding aging processes and age-related diseases and disabilities.

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August 29, 2007 Posted by | Genetics, Global Health Vision, Global News, Health, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Science | 1 Comment

Bits of ‘junk’ RNA aid master tumor-suppressor gene

Loss is linked to common lung cancer

Little-known bits of RNA help master tumor-suppressor gene do its job, U-M cancer researchers find

Three micro RNA genes appear to be key partners of protective gene p53; their loss is linked to common type of lung cancer

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Scientists have shown in literally thousands of studies that the p53 gene deserves its reputation as “the guardian of the genome.” It calls to action an army of other genes in the setting of varied cell stresses, permitting repair of damaged DNA or promoting cell death when the cell damage is too great. A key net effect of p53’s action is to prevent development of cancerous cells.

Now, University of Michigan Medical School scientists provide the most thorough evidence yet that p53 also regulates a trio of genes from the realm of so-called “junk” genes — the roughly 97 percent of a cell’s genetic material whose function is only beginning to be understood.

The study shows that “in the ‘junk’ lies treasure, in terms of critical knowledge about how normal cells stifle cancer or succumb to it,” says Guido Bommer, M.D., the lead author of results, published in a recent issue of the journal Current Biology.

“The findings in the study offer new insights into specific mechanisms by which the expression of hundreds to thousands of genes and proteins is altered in the roughly 50 percent of cancers that carry mutations in the p53 tumor suppressor gene,” says Eric Fearon, M.D., Ph.D., senior author of the study and deputy director of the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center. Scientists continue to mine for details of what goes wrong when p53 is defective and cannot perform its tumor-fighting duties.

The U-M study is one of four recent studies from labs around the world showing that p53 normally gets support from members of a small family of micro RNA genes. The studies are part of a larger effort to understand the function of micro RNA (miRNA for short).

Scientists have long known the importance of messenger RNA (mRNA), which carries protein-making instructions. However, until recently, little was known about micro RNA genes. It is now well recognized that miRNAs regulate the levels of mRNAs, and/or the levels of the proteins produced from mRNAs.

The U-M research team studied the roles of the three genes that make up the miRNA34 family. They showed that the miRNA34 genes work in concert with p53, then went on to explore which other genes the family regulates. They found the miRNA34 genes showed pronounced effects on other genes that control the timing of cell proliferation and division. They also found that the miRNA34 gene family regulated the levels of the Bcl-2 protein, a key factor that enhances a cell’s resistance to death-inducing stimuli.

The team went on to determine if expression of the miRNA34 genes was compromised in human lung cancer cells.

“We found that expression of two of the miRNA34 genes was lost in almost two-thirds of lung adenocarcinomas,” says Bommer.

Adenocarcinomas represent the most common type of non-small cell lung cancer, which is the most frequently diagnosed type of lung cancer. When expression of the miRNA34 genes was restored in lung cancer cells, some of the aberrant growth properties were inhibited.

The discoveries of the role of micro RNAs in tumor suppression could have implications for future cancer therapies.

It’s important to note that micro RNAs alone are not likely to offer new cancer treatment or prevention agents, says Fearon, who is the Emanual N Maisel Professor of Oncology, Professor of Internal Medicine, Professor of Pathology and Professor of Human Genetics at the U-M Medical School.

“However, because of the small size of mature miRNAs, there is optimism that it may be possible to deliver modified nucleic acids that might mimic the effect of the miRNAs,” he says. If modified nucleic acids were to prove effective in more laboratory studies, he adds, they might be pursued further in clinical trials as anti-cancer agents, either alone or more likely in combination with other anti-cancer agents.

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In addition to Bommer and Fearon, other U-M authors include: Isabelle Gerin, Ph.D.; Ying Feng, Ph.D.; Andrew J Kaczorowski, B.S.; Rork Kuick, Ph.D.; Robert E Love , B.S.; Yali Zhai, M.D., Ph.D.; Thomas J Giordano, M.D., Ph.D.; Zhaohui S Qin, Ph.D.; Bethany B Moore, Ph.D.; Ormond A MacDougald, Ph.D.; and Kathleen R Cho, M..D., Ph.D.

This research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Citation: Current Biology 17, 1298–1307, August 7, 2007

Contact: Anne Rueter
arueter@umich.edu
734-764-2220
University of Michigan Health System

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August 23, 2007 Posted by | Cancer, Genetic, Genetics, Global Health Vision, Global News | 3 Comments

ESF EURYI award winner aims to stop cancer cells reading their own DNA

A promising new line in anti-cancer therapy by blocking the molecular motors involved in copying genetic information during cell division is being pursued by young Dutch researcher Dr. Nynke Dekker in one of this year’s EURYI award winning projects sponsored by the European Science Foundation (ESF) and the European Heads of Research Councils (EuroHORCS). Dekker and her team are trying to stop tumor development by interfering with the molecular motors that copy DNA during cell division. This will cut off the genetic information flow that tumours need to grow, and could complement existing cancer therapies, while in the longer term bringing the promise of improved outcomes with greatly reduced side effects.

There are three primary ways of treating cancer at present, and these have fundamentally changed little in 30 years. In the case of solid tumours, surgery can be used to cut out the cancerous tissue, while radiation therapy can kill the malignant cells, and chemotherapy stops them dividing. Dekker’s work is aiming towards a new generation of drugs that target cancer cells much more specifically than traditional chemotherapy, avoiding side effects such as temporary hair loss.

Dekker is focusing on an enzyme called Topoisomerase IB that plays a key role in some of the molecular motors involved in the processes of DNA and RNA copying during cell division. These are responsible for reading the genetic code and making sure it is encoded correctly in the daughter cell. In healthy cells it is important that this process works normally, but in cancer cells it is a natural target for disruptive therapy. “Specifically targeting these molecular motors in cancer cells would then prevent the cancer cells from growing into a larger tumor,” said Dekker. This molecular copying machinery, constructed mostly out of proteins, in effect walks along the DNA double helix reading the genetic code so that it can be copied accurately into new DNA during division. Other components of the machinery are responsible for slicing and assembling the DNA itself. All of these are potential targets for anti-cancer therapy, providing it is possible to single out the tumor cells. Most existing chemotherapy targets all dividing cells, and the aim to find more sensitive techniques.

However Dekker’s work is not just confined to cancer, having the broader goal within the ESF EURYI project of unraveling the underlying physical principles behind these molecular motors that operate at the nanometer scale to process and manipulate the information stored within the DNA and RNA of our cells. Dekker is exploiting a variety of new highly sensitive manipulation and imaging techniques capable of resolving single molecules. These include force spectroscopy, new forms of optical microscopy with greatly improved resolving power and field depth, as well as nanotechnologies. The research involves cross-disciplinary work among scientists in different fields with the long term goal of developing more precisely targeted molecular medicines for a variety of diseases involving disruption to normal cellular functions and not just cancer.

Dekker’s work has already shown great promise, and she has been able to predict what effect certain antitumor drugs would have on the basis of her molecular insights, confirming her hypotheses in yeast cells. “Indeed the work with antitumor drugs is, as far as I know, the first experiment in which single-molecule experiments have resulted in a prediction for a cellular effect,” said Dekker.

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Dekker, a 36-year-old Dutch associate professor at the Technische Universiteit Delft in the Netherlands, is currently undertaking single-molecule studies of DNA and RNA and their interactions with proteins, integrated with nanotechnology where appropriate. She gained her PhD in physics at Harvard University, having graduated from Yale.

As well as being awarded multiple grants and fellowship programmes, Dr. Dekker is a member of the Council of the Biophysical Society, and of the Young Academy of the Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is actively involved in conference organization at the interface of biology and physics. Her group’s research has appeared in Nature and in The Proceedings of the National Academy, USA, among others.

The EURYI awards scheme, entering its fourth and final year, is designed to attract outstanding young scientists from around the world to create their own research teams at European research centres and launch potential world-leading research careers. Most awards are between €1,000,000 and €1,250,000, comparable in size to the Nobel Prize. Dekker will receive his award in Helsinki, Finland on 27 September 2007 with other 19 young researchers.

More on Dekker’s work http://www.esf.org/activities/euryi/awards/2007/nynke-hester-dekker.html

More on EURYI: http://www.esf.org/ext-ceo-news-singleview/article/2007-euryi-20-young-researchers-to-receive-nobel-prize-sized-awards-for-breakthrough-ideas-294.html

Contact: Thomas Lau
tlau@esf.org
33-388-762-158
European Science Foundation

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August 9, 2007 Posted by | Cancer, Cancer Biology, European Science Foundation, Genes, Genetic, Genetics, Global, Global Health Vision, Global News, Health, Music Video Of The Day | Leave a comment

Multicenter study nets new lung tumor-suppressor gene

BOSTON–Collaborating scientists in Boston and North Carolina have found that a particular gene can block key steps of the lung cancer process in mice. The researchers report in the journal Nature that LKB1 is not only a “tumor-suppressor” gene for non-small cell lung cancer in mice, it also may be more powerful than other, better-known suppressors. The study will be published on the journal’s Web site on Aug. 5 and later in a print version.

If further research shows LKB1 has a similar effect in human lung cells, it could influence the way non-small cell lung cancer is diagnosed and treated, says the study’s senior author, Kwok-Kin Wong, MD, PhD, of Dana-Farber, one of three institutions, along with Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, leading the work. If tumors with LKB1 mutations are found to be especially fast-growing, for example, patients with such tumors might be candidates for more aggressive therapy.

People born with defective versions of LKB1 often develop Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, which is marked by intestinal growths and an increased risk for certain cancers. Non-inherited mutations of the gene have been found in some lung cancers. This suggested that LKB1 normally thwarts tumors from forming. Mutated versions may be unable to act as a brake on cancer.

To find out, the investigators ran a series of experiments in mice with a defective form of a gene called Kras, which drives the formation and growth of lung cancer. They tracked the development of lung cancer in animals with mutated LKB1 and compared it to the experience of animals with abnormalities in either of two well-known tumor-suppressor genes.

They found that while Kras “cooperated” with the mutated tumor-suppressor genes to produce lung cancer, it cooperated even more strongly with mutated LKB1. “The LKB1-deficient tumors grew more rapidly and spread more frequently than the others, and comprised all three types of non-small cell lung cancer — squamous cell carcinoma, large-cell carcinoma, and adenocarcinoma — rather than just one or two,” Wong says. “This suggests that LKB1 plays a role at major stages of the tumors’ development: initiation, differentiation of normal lung cells into cancer cells, and metastasis.”

An examination of human non-small-cell lung tissue suggests LKB1 mutations play a role there as well. Of 144 samples analyzed, 34 percent of the lung adenocarcinomas and 19 percent of the squamous cell carcinomas contained abnormal versions of the gene, researchers report.

“We were surprised at how significant a role LKB1 mutations play in non-small cell lung cancer development in mice,” say Wong, who is also an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “This suggests there may be additional lung tumor-suppressor genes yet to be discovered. We’re currently examining whether these results apply to human lung cancers as well and, if so, how such information can improve treatment.”

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The lead author of the study was Hongbin Ji, PhD, of Dana-Farber. Other Dana-Farber co-authors include Dongpo Cai, PhD, Liang Chen, PhD, Pasi Janne, MD, PhD, Bruce Johnson, MD, Jussi Koivunen, MD, PhD, Danan Li, Mei-Chih Liang, PhD, Kate McNamara, Matthew Meyerson, MD, PhD, Samanthi Perera, PhD, Geoffrey Shapiro, MD, PhD, and Takeshi Shimamura, PhD. Other authors were based at Children’s Hospital Boston, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Broad Institute of Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Sidney Kimmel Foundation for Cancer Research, the American Federation of Aging, the Joan Scarangello Foundation to Conquer Lung Cancer, the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute, the Waxman Foundation, the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, and the Linda Verville Foundation.

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (www.dana-farber.org) is a principal teaching affiliate of the Harvard Medical School and is among the leading cancer research and care centers in the United States. It is a founding member of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center (DF/HCC), designated a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute.

Contact: Bill Schaller
william_schaller@dfci.harvard.edu
617-632-5357
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

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August 5, 2007 Posted by | Baltimore, Barcelona, Bethesda, Biological Sciences, Calgary, Canada, Cancer, Cancer Biology, France, Genes, Genetic, Genetic Link, Genetics, Genome, Genomic, Germany, Global, Global Health Vision, Global News, Health Canada, Human Genome, LKB1, Lung Cancer, Medical History, Medical Journals, Newfoundland, News, News Australia, News Canada, News Israel, News Italy, News Jerusalem, News Switzerland, News UK, News US, News USA, NIH, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, University of North Carolina, World News | 2 Comments

Identifying the mechanism behind a genetic susceptibility to type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is reaching epidemic proportions in the developed world. Determining if and how certain genes predispose individuals to type 2 diabetes is likely to lead to the development of new treatment strategies for individuals with the disease.

In a study appearing in the August issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation Valeriya Lyssenko and colleagues from Lund University in Sweden show that certain variants of the gene TCF7L2 make individuals more susceptible to type 2 diabetes. The susceptibility variants were associated with increased expression of TCF7L2 in pancreatic islet cells and decreased islet cell secretion of insulin. Consistent with this, ectopic overexpression of TCF7L2 in human islet cells decreased insulin secretion in response to exposure to glucose. This study identifies TCF7L2 type 2 diabetes susceptibility variants and provides a mechanism by which these genetic variants might cause susceptibility to the disease. As discussed by the authors and in the accompanying commentary by Andrew Hattersley from Peninsula Medical School in the United Kingdom, future studies are likely to investigate the potential for manipulating the signaling pathways controlled by TCF7L2 for the development of new therapeutics for type 2 diabetes.

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TITLE: Mechanisms by which common variants in the TCF7L2 gene increase risk of type 2 diabetes

AUTHOR CONTACT:
Valeriya Lyssenko
Lund University, University Hospital Malma, Malma, Sweden.
Phone: 46-40-391214; Fax: 46-40-391222; E-mail: Valeri.Lyssenko@med.lu.se.

View the PDF of this article at: https://www.the-jci.org/article.php?id=30706

ACCOMPANYING COMMENTARY
TITLE: Prime suspect: the TCF7L2 gene and type 2 diabetes risk

AUTHOR CONTACT:
Andrew T. Hattersley
Institute of Biomedical and Clinical Sciences, Peninsula Medical School, Exeter, United Kingdom.
Phone: 44-1392-406806; Fax: 44-1392-406767; E-mail: Andrew.Hattersley@pms.ac.uk.

View the PDF of this article at: https://www.the-jci.org/article.php?id=33077

Contact: Karen Honey
press_releases@the-jci.org
215-573-1850
Journal of Clinical Investigation

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August 2, 2007 Posted by | Alberta, Baltimore, Barcelona, Bethesda, Biological Sciences, Calgary, Canada, Diabetes, France, Genes, Genetic, Genetic Link, Genetics, Genome, Genomic, Germany, Global, Global Health Vision, Global News, Health Canada, Human Genome, Irvine, Italy, Japan, Journal of Clinical Investigation, Medical Journals, Newfoundland, News, News Australia, News Canada, News Israel, News Italy, News Jerusalem, News Switzerland, News UK, News US, News USA, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Osaka, Ottawa, Pennsylvania, Prince Edward Island, Public Health, Quebec, Research, RSS, RSS Feed, Slovakia, Spain, Toronto, Type 2 Diabetes, US, Virginia, Washington DC, Washington DC City Feed, World News | Leave a comment

U-M researchers find family of ‘on switches’ that cause prostate cancer

Gene fusions trigger cancer growth, could impact treatment choices

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center have discovered how genes turn on the switch that leads to prostate cancer.

The team discovered that pieces of two chromosomes can trade places with each other and cause two genes to fuse together. The fused genes then override the “off” switch that keeps cells from growing uncontrollably, causing prostate cancer to develop.

By testing these gene fusions in mice and in cell cultures, the researchers showed that the fusions are what cause prostate cancer to develop. But it’s not just one set of genes that fuse. The researchers found that any one of several in a family of genes can become scrambled and fuse. Results of the study appear in the Aug. 2 issue of Nature.

“Each of these switches, or gene fusions, represent different molecular subtypes. This tells us there’s not just one type of prostate cancer. It’s a more complex disease and potentially needs to be treated differently in each patient,” says lead study author Arul Chinnaiyan, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Michigan Center for Translational Pathology, a new U-M center whose goal is to translate research into real world practice.

The gene fusion research is the centerpiece project of the new center. In the current study, researchers found one of several abnormal gene fusions in the prostate cancer tissue samples they tested. In 2005, the researchers identified a prostate-specific gene called TMPRSS2, which fuses with either ERG or ETV1, two genes known to be involved in several types of cancer.

The Nature paper reports on five additional genes that fuse with ERG or ETV1 to cause prostate cancer. Gene fusions were involved in 60 percent to 70 percent of the prostate cancer cell lines the researchers looked at. The genes involved are all controlled by a different mechanism. For example, four of the genes are regulated by androgen, a male sex hormone known to fuel prostate cancer. Androgen deprivation is a common therapy for prostate cancer.

Knowing which gene fusion is involved in an individual patient’s tumor could impact treatment options. If an androgen-regulated gene is involved, androgen therapy would be appropriate. But if the gene fusion involves a gene that represses androgen, the anti-androgen therapy could encourage the cancer’s growth. This may also explain why androgen treatment is not effective for some prostate cancers.

“Typing someone’s prostate cancer by gene fusion can affect the treatment given. We would not want to give androgen to someone whose prostate cancer gene fusion is not regulated by androgen,” says Chinnaiyan, who is the S.P. Hicks Collegiate Professor of Pathology at the U-M Medical School.

Rearrangements in chromosomes and fused genes are known to play a role in blood cell cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, and in Ewing’s sarcoma. A fused gene combination that plays a role in chronic myelogenous leukemia led researchers to develop the drug Gleevec, which has dramatically improved survival rates for that disease.

Chinnaiyan believes the prostate gene fusions will eventually lead to similar treatments for prostate cancer.

“More immediately, we hope to develop tests for diagnosis or prognosis. But long-term, we hope this will lead to better therapies to treat prostate cancer. The key challenge is to find a drug that would go after this gene fusion,” Chinnaiyan says.

The gene fusion technology has been licensed to San Diego-based Gen-Probe Inc., which is working on a screening tool to detect gene fusions in urine. The tool could one day supplement or replace the prostate specific antigen, or PSA, test currently used to screen for prostate cancer.

The idea of translating laboratory research findings into a test or treatment that will impact patients is central to the new Michigan Center for Translational Pathology. The center brings together experts in genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics to look at common patterns and potential targets in cancer and other diseases. This is the first center of its kind in the nation in that it is associated with one of 39 National Cancer Institute-designated “comprehensive” cancer centers, a premier medical school and a large health system with both clinicians and patients.

The center’s goal is to study the genes, proteins and other markers on cells to develop new diagnostic tests or screening tools as well as targeted treatments for cancer and other diseases, with the key being to translate these laboratory discoveries into clinical applications.

Chinnaiyan and his team have received numerous awards and honors, including the American Association for Cancer Research Team Science Award for their previously published work on gene fusions, and the Specialized Program of Research Excellence Outstanding Investigator award. The new Center for Translational Pathology supported in part by the Prostate Cancer Foundation, which has offered to match up to $1 million dollars in donations to support work related to developing therapies against prostate cancer gene fusions at the university.

“Mapping of the human genome was only the beginning. Equipped with the comprehensive analysis of the human genome, we can now systematically examine the blueprint of disease at the molecular level. This essential knowledge may lead to better diagnostic tests and promising new treatments for cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other illnesses,” Chinnaiyan says.

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For information about the Michigan Center for Translational Pathology, go to http://www.med.umich.edu/mctp.

About 218,890 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year, and 27,050 will die from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. The gene fusion work is not currently available for treatment or diagnosis, and no clinical trials are currently recruiting. For information about prostate cancer and currently available treatments, go to http://www.mcancer.org or call the U-M Cancer AnswerLine at 800-865-1125.

In addition to Chinnaiyan, U-M study authors were Scott Tomlins; Saravana Dhanasekaran, Ph.D.; Bharathi Laxman; Qi Cao; Beth Helgeson; Xuhong Cao; David Morris, M.D.; Anjana Menon; Xiaojun Jing; Bo Han; James Montie, M.D.; Kenneth Pienta, M.D.; Diane Roulston; Rajal Shah, M.D.; Sooryanarayana Varambally, Ph.D.; and Rohit Mehra, M.D. Mark Rubin, M.D., from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School is also a study author.

Funding for the study came from the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Institutes of Health, the Early Detection Research Network, the Prostate Cancer Foundation and Gen-Probe Inc.

The University of Michigan has filed for a patent on the detection of gene fusions in prostate cancer, on which Tomlins, Mehra, Rubin and Chinnaiyan are co-inventors. The diagnostic field of use has been licensed to Gen-Probe Inc. Chinnaiyan also has a sponsored research agreement with Gen-Probe; however, GenProbe has had no role in the design or experimentation of this study, nor has it participated in the writing of the manuscript.

Reference: Nature, Vol. 448, No. 7153, Aug. 2, 2007

Contact: Nicole Fawcett
nfawcett@umich.edu
734-764-2220
University of Michigan Health System

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August 1, 2007 Posted by | acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Alberta, Baltimore, Barcelona, Bethesda, Calgary, Canada, Cancer, Cancer Biology, Cancer Biology and Therapy, Chemotherapy, Childhood Lukemia, France, Genes, Genetic, Genetic Link, Genetics, Genome, Genomic, Germany, Global, Global Health Vision, Global News, Health Canada, Human Genome, Irvine, Italy, Japan, journal Nature Genetics, Leukemia, Lung Cancer, Medical Journals, Nature Genetics, Newfoundland, News, News Australia, News Canada, News Israel, News Italy, News Jerusalem, News Switzerland, News UK, News US, News USA, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Nova Scotia, Oncology, Osaka, Ottawa, Prince Edward Island, Public Health, Quebec, Research, RSS, RSS Feed, Slovakia, Spain, Toronto, UK, University of Michigan, US, Virginia, Washington DC, Washington DC City Feed, World News | 3 Comments

Huntington’s disease study shows animal models on target

This release is available in French.

An international team of researchers has published a benchmark study showing that gene expression in several animal models of Huntington’s Disease (HD) closely resembles that of human HD patients.

The results, published August 1, 2007, in the , validate the applicability of using animal models to study human disease and will have important consequences for the pertinence of these models in preclinical drug testing.

Huntington’s disease is an incurable and fatal hereditary neurodegenerative disorder caused by a mutation in the gene that encodes the huntingtin protein. Neurons in certain regions of the brain succumb to the effects of the altered protein, leading to severe motor, psychiatric, and cognitive decline. Several recent studies have shown that the mutant huntingtin protein modifies the transcriptional activity of genes in affected neurons. This disease mechanism is a promising new avenue for research into the causes of neuronal death and a novel potential approach for treatment.

Led by EPFL professor Ruth Luthi-Carter, and involving collaborators from six countries, the current study found a marked resemblance between the molecular etiology of neurons in animal models and neurons in patients with HD. This implies that animal models are relevant for studying human HD and testing potential treatments.

To come to this conclusion, the scientists measured the gene expression profile of seven different transgenic mouse models of HD, representing different conditions and disease stages. These profiles clarified the role of different forms and dosages of the protein hungtintin in the transcriptional activity of neurons. They then designed and implemented novel computational methods for quantifying similarities between RNA profiles that would allow for comparisons between the gene expression in mice and in human patients. “Interestingly, results of different testing strategies converged to show that several available models accurately recapitulate the molecular changes observed in human HD,” explains Luthi-Carter. “It underlines the suitability of these animal models for preclinical testing of drugs that affect gene transcription in Huntington’s Disease.”

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More Information:

EPFL Laboratory of functional neurogenomics, http://lngf.epfl.ch/

Alexandre Kuhn ; +41 21 693 1731
alexandre.kuhn@epfl.ch

Professor Ruth Luthi-Carter; +41 21 693 9533
ruth.luthi-carter@epfl.ch

Contact: Alexandre Kuhn
alexandre.kuhn@epfl.ch
41-216-931-731
Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

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July 31, 2007 Posted by | Alberta, Baltimore, Barcelona, Bethesda, Calgary, Canada, DNA, France, Genes, Genetic, Genetic Link, Genetics, Genome, Genomic, Germany, Global, Global Health Vision, Global News, Health Canada, Human Genome, Huntington's disease, Italy, Japan, Neurodegenerative Diseases, Newfoundland, News, News Australia, News Canada, News Israel, News Italy, News Jerusalem, News Switzerland, News UK, News US, News USA, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Ottawa, Prince Edward Island, Proteins, Quebec, Research, RSS, RSS Feed, Spain, Toronto, UK, US, Virginia, Washington DC, Washington DC City Feed, World News | Leave a comment

Flip of genetic switch causes cancers in mice to self-destruct, Stanford researchers find

STANFORD, Calif. – Killing cancerous tumors isn’t easy, as anyone who has suffered through chemotherapy can attest. But a new study in mice shows that switching off a single malfunctioning gene can halt the limitless division of tumor cells and turn them back to the path of their own planned obsolescence.

The surprising possibility that a cell’s own natural mechanism for ensuring its mortality could be used to vanquish tumors opens the door to a new approach to developing drugs to treat cancer patients, according to Dean Felsher, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine (oncology) and of pathology at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Felsher is the senior author of the study to be published July 30 in the advance online version of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Our research implies that by shutting off a critical cancer gene, tumor cells can realize that they are broken and restore this physiologic fail-safe program,” said Felsher.

Cancer can be notoriously resistant to medical treatment. Not only do cancer cells proliferate uncontrollably, they somehow circumvent the mechanism that causes normal cells to die when they get old or malfunction. That makes cancer cells effectively immortal unless doctors manage to squelch them.

The gene Felsher’s team studied produces a protein called Myc (pronounced “mick”), which promotes cell division. A mutation of the gene causes cells to overproduce the protein, prompting perpetual cell division and tumor growth. By turning off the mutated gene, the researchers found that not only did uncontrolled cell division cease, but the cells also reactivated a normal physiological mechanism, called senescence, which makes it possible for a cell to eventually die.

“What was unexpected was just the fact that cancer cells had retained the ability to undergo senescence at all,” said Felsher. Cancer researchers had long thought the senescence process had to be irreversibly disrupted for a tumor to develop.

The researchers worked with a series of mice engineered to have Myc-triggered cancers of either the liver, blood or bones, along with a specially constructed version of the Myc gene that they could switch off by feeding the mice antibiotics. When the mice dined on doses of the drugs, invariably, the tumors ceased growing and then diminished, with some disappearing over the course of just a few days.

Although Felsher’s lab had previously shown that mouse tumors diminished and disappeared when Myc was switched off, they hadn’t been sure how the process actually worked. Historically, most research involving genetic methods of battling cancer cells has focused on reactivating genes called tumor-suppressor genes, which are generally overcome by a proliferating cancer. No one had explored the idea that senescence might play a key role in diminishing tumors.

Felsher described senescence as acting like a fail-safe mechanism to stop cancer. When a cell detects a deleterious mutation, it launches the senescence process, resulting in the permanent loss of the cell’s ability to proliferate, thus halting any cancer.

“In order to become tumor cells, those cells have to overcome senescence,” said Chi-Hwa Wu, PhD, postdoctoral researcher in Felsher’s lab and first author of the study. Wu had the inspiration to explore whether the sudden diminishment they had observed in the tumors might be due to the reactivation of some latent remnant of the trigger for senescence.

Through a series of experiments looking at enzymes associated with the senescence process, as well as some molecular markers, Wu confirmed her suspicion. And not only was senescence occurring in cells that had been thought to be incapable of it, the process was reactivated in all the different tumors they studied.

Consider it a cell version of the Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation. “It’s sort of like Mr. Hyde realizing that there’s something wrong with him and then being able to put himself back into his normal state as Dr. Jekyll,” Felsher said.

In addition to the deepened understanding of how the process of senescence works, Felsher and Wu see a lot of potential for new approaches to treating cancer, beyond the traditional tactic of trying to kill cancer cells directly. “This work implies that maybe part of the strategy should involve figuring out how to get the cancer cells to just be allowed to do what they originally wanted to do anyway, which is to not be proliferating endlessly and growing uncontrolled,” said Felsher.

The next step for the team is to see how well the approach works in human cancer cells. “And we’re also trying to figure out what the mechanism is,” Felsher said. “What are the molecular mechanisms of this, so that we can figure out how to better treat cancer””

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Other authors on the research paper are Jan van Riggelen, PhD, postdoctoral researcher; Alper Yetil, graduate student in cancer biology; Alice Fan, MD, instructor in medicine (oncology), and medical student Pavan Bachireddy.

The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institutes of Health, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the Damon Runyon Lilly Clinical Investigator Award, the Lymphoma Research Foundation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Stanford University Medical Center integrates research, medical education and patient care at its three institutions – Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Hospital & Clinics and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. For more information, please visit the Web site of the medical center’s Office of Communication & Public Affairs at http://mednews.stanford.edu.

Contact: Lou Bergeron
louisb3@stanford.edu
650-723-3900
Stanford University Medical Center

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July 31, 2007 Posted by | acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Alberta, Baltimore, Barcelona, Bethesda, Biological Sciences, Calgary, Canada, Cancer, Cancer Biology, Cancer Biology and Therapy, Childhood Lukemia, France, Genes, Genetic, Genetic Link, Genetics, Genome, Genomic, Germany, Global, Global Health Vision, Global News, Health Canada, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Human Genome, Italy, Japan, Leukemia, Medical Journals, Molecular Biology, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Newfoundland, News, News Australia, News Canada, News Israel, News Italy, News Jerusalem, News Switzerland, News UK, News US, News USA, NIH, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Osaka, Ottawa, Prince Edward Island, Public Health, Quebec, Research, RSS, RSS Feed, Toronto, UK, US, Virginia, Washington DC, Washington DC City Feed, Wellcome Trust, World News | Leave a comment

Research links genetic mutations to lupus

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – A gene discovered by scientists at Wake Forest University School of Medicine has been linked to lupus and related autoimmune diseases. The finding, reported in the current issue of Nature Genetics, is the latest in a series of revelations that shed new light on what goes wrong in human cells to cause the diseases.

“This research is a huge leap toward understanding the cause of lupus and related autoimmune diseases,” said Fred Perrino, Ph.D., a co-author on the paper and a professor of biochemistry at Wake Forest. “There had been few clues before now.”

Perrino, who discovered the gene in 1998, said he suspected it was involved in human disease, but it took a group of researchers from around the world collaborating to put the puzzle together.

“We’ve known that lupus was a complex disease, but now we have a specific protein and a particular cellular process that appears to be one of the causes,” said Perrino. “We’re connecting the dots to understand the biology of what’s going on with the disease.”

In Nature Genetics, lead author Min Ae Lee-Kirsch, M.D., from the Technische Universität Dresden in Dresden, Germany, and colleagues report finding variations of the TREX1 gene discovered by Perrino in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus. The study involved 417 lupus patients from the United Kingdom and Germany. Mutations were found in nine patients with lupus and were absent in 1,712 people without lupus.

“Our data identify a stronger risk for developing lupus in patients that carry variants of the gene,” said Lee-Kirsch.

In recent years, the gene was also linked to Aicardi-Goutieres syndrome, a rare neurological disease that causes death in infants, and to chilblain lupus, an inherited disease associated with painful bluish-red skin lesions that occur during cold weather and usually improve in summer. The current research also links it to Sjogren’s syndrome, a form of lupus.

The diseases are all autoimmuine diseases, which means that the body makes antibodies against itself. In lupus, these antibodies cause pain and inflammation in various parts of the body, including the skin, joints, heart, lungs, blood, kidneys and brain. The disease is characterized by pain, heat, redness, swelling and loss of function.

Perrino began studying the protein made by the gene more than 14 years ago.

“We basically cracked open cells to locate the protein and find the gene,” said Perrino. “In the 14 years since, we’ve learned a lot about the protein and how it functions.”

The gene manufactures a protein, also known as TREX1, whose function is to “disassemble” or “unravel” DNA, the strand of genetic material that controls processes within cells. The “unraveling” occurs during the natural process of cells dying and being replaced by new cells. If a cell’s DNA isn’t degraded or unraveled during cell death, the body develops antibodies against it.

“If the TREX1 protein isn’t working to disassemble the DNA, you make antibodies to your own DNA and can end up with a disease like lupus,” said Perrino.

Perrino and colleagues at Wake Forest have been studying the gene and its protein since 1993. Thomas Hollis, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biochemistry at Wake Forest, is credited with solving the structure of both TREX1 and a similar protein, TREX2. Perrino has also developed a way to measure the function of the proteins.

In a study reported in April in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Hollis and Perrino found that three variations of the gene reduced the activity of the protein by four- to 35,000-fold.

“Now that we have the structure, we can understand how it disassembles DNA and how mutations in the gene may affect that process,” said Hollis.

The researchers hope that understanding more about the gene’s mutations and the structure of the protein may lead to drug treatments to help ensure that mutant copies of the gene are inactive.

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Media Contacts: Karen Richardson, krchrdsn@wfubmc.edu; Shannon Koontz, shkoontz@wfubmc.edu; at 336-716-4587.

Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university’s School of Medicine. U.S. News & World Report ranks Wake Forest University School of Medicine 18th in primary care and 44th in research among the nation’s medical schools. It ranks 35th in research funding by the National Institutes of Health. Almost 150 members of the medical school faculty are listed in Best Doctors in America.

Contact: Karen Richardson
krchrdsn@wfubmc.edu
336-716-4453
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center

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July 29, 2007 Posted by | Alberta, Baltimore, Barcelona, Bethesda, Biological Sciences, Calgary, Canada, Clinical Trials, France, Genes, Genetic, Genetic Link, Genetic Marker C allele of rs10505477, Genetics, Genome, Genomic, Global, Global Health Vision, Global News, Health Canada, Human Genome, Italy, Japan, Lupus, Nature Genetics, Newfoundland, News, News Australia, News Canada, News Israel, News Italy, News Jerusalem, News Switzerland, News UK, News US, News USA, NIH, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Osaka, Ottawa, Prince Edward Island, Public Health, Quebec, Research, RSS, RSS Feed, Slovakia, Spain, Toronto, UK, US, Virginia, Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, WASHINGTON, Washington DC, Washington DC City Feed, World Health Organisation, World News | 1 Comment