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Cancer genetics

Cancer survives by silencing a gene

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Breast cancer can become resistant to treatment by co-opting a gene-silencing mechanism, reports a team led by Steffi Oesterreich at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.

The hormone oestrogen, which drives many breast cancers, dampens the activity of the tumour-fighting gene HOXC10, and drugs called aromatase inhibitors free the gene from this repression. But in a genome-wide screen of human breast-cancer cells, the team found that these drugs can also lead to a type of epigenetic modification called methylation — the addition of methyl groups to DNA without changing its sequence — across the genome. This ultimately silences HOXC10, rendering breast-cancer cells resistant to aromatase inhibitors.

Blocking the methylation activity associated with aromatase-inhibitor treatment might delay or prevent resistance to therapy, the authors say.

Sci. Transl. Med. 6, 229ra41 (2014)

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Cancer survives by silencing a gene. Nature 508, 11 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/508011b

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