Three genes help breast cancer invade the brain
(25 May 2009: VIDYYA MEDICAL NEWS SERVICE) -- Breast cancer can appear in the brain years after a tumor in the breast has been removed. This, researchers say, suggests that breast cancer cells must acquire special abilities in order to metastasize to the brain, possibly through the activation of certain genes. Three genes involved in this process in mice have now been identified by Dr. Joan Massagué of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) and his colleagues, according to a study published online in Nature on May 6.
While the research is in its early stages, the hope is that it could eventually lead to new strategies for preventing and treating brain metastases. These are needed because many women are living longer with breast cancer and, as a result, the incidence of brain metastases in breast cancer is rising.
Two of the genes, COX2 and HBEGF, were found to help breast cancer cells enter into the brain. These genes were previously found to help breast cancer cells invade the lungs. A shared mechanism underlying breast cancer’s spread to the brain and lungs may help explain why some patients develop the disease in both organs, the researchers said.
But additional mediators seem to be required to help cancer cells get across the blood-brain barrier, which prevents harmful substances from reaching the brain. A third gene, ST6GALNAC5, may offer assistance. Though the gene is normally active only in brain tissue, it appears to help breast cancer cells acquire a “coating” that allows them to cross into the brain, the researchers reported.
“The next step is to develop a better understanding of how these three genes allow the tumor cells to get into the brain,” said Dr. Paula D. Bos of MSKCC, the study’s first author. “Other genes are almost certainly involved, and we will use our model to find and evaluate them,” she added.
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