Geneticists in the US report in Nature this week that they have identified a gene that promotes aggressive breast cancer by altering the behaviour of more than 1,000 other genes within tumour cells. What’s more, they have found that knocking out this ‘kingpin’ gene, called SATB1, causes the cancer cells to halt their runaway proliferation.
Already known to be expressed in breast tumours, SATB1 is a key factor in the process of metastasis — or the spread of cancerous cells to other locations in the body — report Terumi Kohwi–Shigematsu from the University of California and co-workers from the same university and the Fox Chase Cancer Center.
In mouse models, the researchers found that deliberately expressing SATB1 in cancer cells causes them to form very aggressive tumours; conversely, disrupting this gene stops cancer cells from dividing and spreading. This is consistent with the normal role in the cell of SATB1, the protein, as an ‘organizer’ of other genes, according to the researchers. Aggressive breast tumours therefore form when the SATB1 gene is overactivated, and the ‘mob’ of growth-promoting genes that it controls begins to run amok.
Kohwi-Shigematsu and co-workers conclude that, although further research is necessary, SATB1 may be useful as a therapeutic target for metastatic breast disease.
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