Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Virus-fighting genes linked to mutations in cancer


Genetic evidence supports role of gene family in cancer development

Researchers have found a major piece of genetic evidence that confirms the role of a group of virus-fighting genes in cancer development.

Our understanding of the biological processes that cause cancer is limited. UV light and smoking are two well-understood cancer-causing processes. Exposure to either of these processes causes distinguishable patterns of genetic damage, or 'signatures', on the genome that can lead to cancer. All cancer-causing processes leave their own distinct imprint or signature, on the genomes of cancer cells.

The APOBEC family of genes control enzymes that are believed to have evolved in humans to fight off viral infections. Scientists have speculated that these enzymes are responsible for a very distinct signature of mutations that is present in approximately half of all cancer types. Therefore, understanding the cancer-causing process behind this common genetic signature is pivotal for disease control and prevention.

The team studied the genomes of breast cancers in patients with a specific inherited deletion in two of these APOBEC genes. They found that these cancer genomes had a much greater prevalence of the distinct mutational signature that is thought to be driven by the APOBEC family of genes.

"The increased frequency of this common cancer signature in breast cancer patients with APOBEC gene abnormalities supports our theory that these enzymes play a role in generating this mutational signature," says Dr Serena Nik-Zainal, first author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

This genetic deletion is found on chromosome 22 where the APOBEC genes, APOBEC3A and APOBEC3B, sit next to each other. Women with this genetic deletion have previously been reported to be more susceptible to breast cancer.

The team examined 923 samples of breast cancer from women from across the world and found more than 140 people with either one or two copies of the deletion on each chromosome. Breast cancer in women with the deletion had a much greater quantity of mutations of this particular genetic signature.

However, the mutational activity of the APOBEC genes appears to be a double-edged sword. This genetic deletion is much more prevalent in some populations than others: it is found in only 8 per cent of Europeans, but is present in 93 per cent of the population of Oceania. Although this deletion increases risk of cancer development, it also seems to provide a currently unknown advantage in populations where it is more common.

"In addition to this APOBEC mediated process, there appear to be many more cancer-causing mutational processes, the underlying nature of which has yet to be understood," says Professor Sir Mike Stratton, lead author and Director of the Sanger Institute. "Working out what these mutational processes are will have profound implications in the future for how we prevent and treat cancer."


Notes to Editors

Publication Details

Serena Nik-Zainal et al (2014). 'Association of a common germline copy number polymorphism of APOBEC3A/3B with burden of putative APOBEC-dependent mutations in breast cancer'

Advanced online publication in Nature Genetics. DOI: 10.1038/ng.2955


A full list of funding can be found on the paper.

Participating Centres

  • Cancer Genome Project, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Wellcome Trust Genome Campus, Hinxton, Cambridgeshire, CB10 1SA
  • Department of Medical Genetics, Box 134, Addenbrooke's Hospital NHS Trust, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 0QQ
  • Section of Oncology, Department of Clinical Science, University of Bergen, Norway
  • Department of Oncology, Haukeland University Hospital, Bergen, Norway
  • Department of Genetics and Genome Biology, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Canada.
  • Regional Genetics Laboratories, Box 143, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Cambridge Biomedical Campus, Hills Road, Cambridge, CB2 0QQ
  • Department of Haematology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 2XY, UK


Selected Websites

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute is one of the world's leading genome centres. Through its ability to conduct research at scale, it is able to engage in bold and long-term exploratory projects that are designed to influence and empower medical science globally. Institute research findings, generated through its own research programmes and through its leading role in international consortia, are being used to develop new diagnostics and treatments for human disease.

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. We support the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. Our breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. We are independent of both political and commercial interests.

Contact details

Don Powell Media Manager
Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute
Hinxton, Cambridge, CB10 1SA, UK
Tel +44 (0)1223 496 928
Mobile +44 (0)7753 7753 97

Mary Clarke | Eurek Alert!

Further reports about: CB2 Genetics Genome NHS Oncology Trust breast chromosome 22 genes genetic signature

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Gene therapy shows promise for treating Niemann-Pick disease type C1
27.10.2016 | NIH/National Human Genome Research Institute

nachricht 'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape
27.10.2016 | International School of Advanced Studies (SISSA)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>