Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Researchers create first molecule blocks key component of cancer genes' on-off switch

27.09.2010
In the quest to arrest the growth and spread of tumors, there have been many attempts to get cancer genes to ignore their internal instruction manual. In a new study, a team led by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute scientists has created the first molecule able to prevent cancer genes from "hearing" those instructions, stifling the cancer process at its root.

The study, published online by the journal Nature, demonstrates that proteins issuing stop and start commands to a cancer gene – known as epigenetic "reader" proteins – can be targeted for future cancer therapies. The research is particularly relevant to a rare but devastating cancer of children and young adults known as NUT midline carcinoma (NMC) – a disease so obstinate that no potential therapy for it has ever reached the stage of being tested in a clinical trial.

"In recent years, it has become clear that being able to control gene activity in cancer – manipulating which genes are 'on' or 'off' – can be a high-impact approach to the disease," says the study's senior author, James Bradner, MD, of Dana-Farber. "If you can switch off a cancer cell's growth genes, the cell will die. Alternatively, switching on a tissue gene can cause a cancer cell to become a more normal tissue cell."

In this study, Bradner's lab synthesized a molecule that has both effects: by blocking a specific abnormal protein in NUT midline carcinoma cells, it stops them from dividing so prolifically and makes them 'forget' they're cancer cells and start appearing more like normal cells.

The assembled molecule affects the cell's multi-layered apparatus for controlling gene activity, a set of structures collectively known as the epigenome. Vast portions of each gene play a regulatory role, dictating whether the gene is active, busily sending orders for new proteins, or inactive, and temporarily at rest. The gene's DNA is packaged in a substance called chromatin, which is the slate on which instructions to begin or cease activity are inscribed.

The instructions themselves take the form of "bookmarks," substances placed on the chromatin by so-called epigenetic "writer" proteins. Another group of epigenetic proteins, known as "erasers," are able to remove the bookmarks. Both types of proteins have successfully been disabled by scientists, using molecules made in the lab or taken from nature. Their success has sparked intense interest in the development of anti-cancer therapies that work by blocking such proteins.

A third variety of epigenetic proteins – potentially the most appealing as therapeutic targets, because they switch genes on or off by "reading" the bookmarks – has received scant scientific attention. Bradner and his colleagues turned to this little-explored corner of biology by focusing on NMC cells.

The disease is caused by a chromosomal "translocation," in which two genes from different chromosomes become connected and give rise to an abnormal, fused protein known as BRD4-NUT. A review of the scientific literature suggested that some members of the benzodiazepine family of drugs, which includes Valium, Xanax and Ativan, are active against "bromodomain" proteins such as BRD4. With that as a clue, Bradner and his Dana-Farber colleague Jun Qi, PhD, created an array of molecules to see if any inhibited a "reader" protein of the BRD4-NUT gene. One did, quite convincingly – a hybrid molecule, which researchers named JQ1, for Qi.

The investigators worked with researchers in the U.S. and overseas to learn more about the properties of JQ1 and how it works in cells. Stefan Knapp, PhD, of Oxford University in England, provided crystal-clear images of the molecule bound to a protein; Olaf Wiest, PhD, of the University of Notre Dame, showed that the molecule is less flexible in the presence of a protein, explaining why it so effectively blocks the protein; and Andrew Kung, MD, PhD, of Dana-Farber, engineered animal models in which the molecule could be tested against NMC tumors.

The animal studies were especially encouraging. Investigators transplanted NMC cells from patients into laboratory mice, which were then given the JQ1 molecule.

"The activity of the molecule was remarkable," says Bradner, who is also an associate member of the Chemical Biology Program at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. "All the mice that received JQ1 lived; all that did not, died."

For now, JQ1's main utility is as a probe for better understanding the biology underlying NUT midline carcinoma. Bradner, Qi and their colleagues are tweaking the molecule to maximize its effectiveness as a BRD4-NUT stopper. Eventually, it, or a similar molecule, could be the basis for the first effective therapy against NMC.

"The disease tends to arise in the chest, head, or neck, along the vertical centerline of the body, with aggressive tumor growth and metastasis," Bradner explains. "Patients may have a brief response to chemotherapy, but they eventually succumb to the spread of the disease."

Unlike most cancers, NMC's tissue of origin isn't known. It is a disease defined entirely by its genetic signature – the presence of the translocated gene BRD4-NUT. Prior to its genetic identification by Christopher French, MD, of Brigham and Women's Hospital and a study co-author, NMC wasn't recognized as a distinct disease.

"This research further illustrates the promise of personalized medicine," Bradner remarks, "which is the ability to deliver selected molecules to cancer-causing proteins to stop the cancer process while producing a minimum of residual side effects. The development of JQ1 or similar molecule into a drug may produce the first therapy specifically designed for patients with NMC."

In addition to Qi, the study's other lead authors are Panagis Filippakopoulos and Sarah Picaud, of Oxford University, England. The paper's co-authors include William Smith, Elizabeth Morse, Michael McKeown, Yuchuan Wang, PhD, Amanda Christie, and Nathan West, of Dana-Farber; Oleg Fedorov, Tracey Keates, Ildiko Felletar, Martin Philpott, Shonagh Munro, Tom Heightman, and Nicholas La Thangue, of Oxford University; and Tyler Hickman, Michael Cameron, and Brian Schwartz, PhD, of Brigham and Women's Hospital.

The study was supported in part by the Chemistry-Biochemistry-Biology Interface Program at the University of Notre Dame, Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, the National Institutes of Health, the Burroughs Welcome Fund, and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (www.dana-farber.org) is a principal teaching affiliate of the Harvard Medical School and is among the leading cancer research and care centers in the United States. It is a founding member of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center (DF/HCC), designated a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute. It provides adult cancer care with Brigham and Women's Hospital as Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center and it provides pediatric care with Children's Hospital Boston as Dana-Farber/Children's Hospital Cancer Center. Dana-Farber is the top ranked cancer center in New England, according to U.S. News & World Report, and one of the largest recipients among independent hospitals of National Cancer Institute and National Institutes of Health grant funding.

Teresa Herbert | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.dfci.harvard.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht New risk factors for anxiety disorders
24.02.2017 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

nachricht Stingless bees have their nests protected by soldiers
24.02.2017 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Stingless bees have their nests protected by soldiers

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

New risk factors for anxiety disorders

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

MWC 2017: 5G Capital Berlin

24.02.2017 | Trade Fair News

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>