An Achilles heel for kidney cancer

Switching off gene slows tumour growth in mice.

A new target for fighting the most common form of kidney cancer has been identified.

Clear cell renal cell carcinoma is associated with mutations in the tumour suppressor gene VHL, which increase levels of the HIF transcription factor protein. HIF activates genes including several that help to remove methyl-group chemical tags from the histone proteins around which DNA coils.

William Kaelin of Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, and his colleagues found that this increase in HIF makes tumour cells more dependent on a counterbalancing gene called EZH1, which transfers methyl groups to histones.

Inactivating EZH1 using CRISPR gene editing or a drug preferentially inhibited the growth of cancer cells that lacked VHL. Drugs targeting EZH1 also slowed the growth of clear cell renal carcinomas in mice. EZH1 could be a target for drugs against this form of kidney cancer, the authors say.