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Fused Genes Might Fuel Prostate Tumors

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 1 -- U.S. researchers say they've spotted special "gene fusions" that help trigger prostate cancer.

Researchers at the University of Michigan (U-M) Comprehensive Cancer Center found that pieces of two chromosomes can trade places with each other and cause two genes to fuse together. These fused genes then override the "off" switch that prevents uncontrolled cell growth -- key to the development of prostate cancer.

The researchers, who conducted experiments with mice and cell cultures, found that this prostate-cancer causing fusion can occur in a number of genes from the same family. The genes from that family fuse with either ERG or ETV1, two genes known to be involved in several types of cancer.

The study appears in the Aug. 2 issue of the journal 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," lead author Dr. Arul Chinnaiyan, director of U-M's Michigan Center for Transitional Pathology, said in a prepared statement.

Several abnormal gene fusions were involved in 60 percent to 70 percent of the prostate cancer cell lines examined by the researchers. The genes involved in the fusions are controlled by different mechanisms, including four genes regulated by the male sex hormone androgen, which is known to fuel prostate cancer.

Identifying the gene fusion that caused a patient's prostate cancer could help doctors determine the best treatment. For example, if an androgen-regulated gene is involved, androgen therapy may be appropriate, the research team said.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about prostate cancer.

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Posted: August 2007