March 10, 2011 - A detailed analysis of gene fusions present at high frequency in the most common pediatric brain tumors has been performed for the first time in a study published online today in Genome Research (www.genome.org), shedding new light on how these genomic rearrangements form in the early stages of cancer.
Genomic rearrangements, genetic changes that alter the structure of chromosomes, have a positive role in evolution by creating genetic diversity and new genes; however, rearrangements can also predispose to or potentially initiate diseases such as cancer. Gene fusions as a result of genomic rearrangement have been observed in several types of cancer, and recently two gene fusions involving the RAF gene family were identified in the majority of pilocytic astrocytomas, the most common type of pediatric brain tumor.
RAF gene fusions have been shown to activate the MAP kinase pathway, a cell-signaling pathway linked to tumor formation. However, the mechanisms by which the RAF gene fusions form remained largely unknown. A team of researchers from the United Kingdom and the United States has now analyzed in detail the DNA sequences surrounding the points of the genome that are broken and abnormally fused, uncovering clues to the origin of childhood brain tumors.
The group sequenced and analyzed DNA around the breakpoints of the fused genes in 42 pediatric low-grade astrocytomas, finding a particular pattern of DNA sequence occurring more commonly than expected. "We were particularly interested to find significant enrichment of a pattern in the DNA sequence called microhomology," said Dr. Denise Sheer of Queen Mary University of London, a senior author of the report.
Sheer described microhomology as the occurrence of several nucleotides, or letters, of DNA at the gene fusion breakpoints that are identical in the two genes involved in the fusion. She explained that this is consistent with a recently proposed mechanism of genomic rearrangement, where microhomology mediates the erroneous joining of DNA fragments during the repair of DNA breaks.
The authors further noted that the characteristics of RAF gene fusions in low-grade astrocytomas studied here could be relevant in other cancers. "The mechanism of gene malfunction that we have uncovered might apply to a large range of cancers in which other types of gene fusion occur," said Dr. David Ellison of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, also a senior author of the report. "This is an important principle that could help us to understand how cancers start."
Scientists from Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry of Queen Mary University of London (London, UK), St. Jude Children's Research Hospital (Memphis, TN), and the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute (London, UK) contributed to this study.
This work was supported by the Samantha Dickson Brain Tumour Trust, Cancer Research UK, and the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities.
The authors are available for more information by contacting Alexandra Fernandes, press officer at Queen Mary University of London (+44 20 7882-7910; firstname.lastname@example.org) or Carrie Strehlau, Sr. Media Relations Specialist at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital (+1-901-595-2295; email@example.com).
Interested reporters may obtain copies of the manuscript from Peggy Calicchia, Editorial Secretary, Genome Research (firstname.lastname@example.org; +1-516-422-4012).
About the article:
The manuscript will be published online ahead of print on March 10, 2011. Its full citation is as follows: Lawson ARJ, Hindley GFL, Forshew T, Tatevossian RG, Jamie GA, Kelly GP, Neale GA, Ma J, Jones TA, Ellison DW, Sheer D. RAF gene fusion breakpoints in pediatric brain tumors are characterized by significant enrichment of sequence microhomology. Genome Res doi: 10.1101/gr.115782.110.
About Genome Research:
Launched in 1995, Genome Research (www.genome.org) is an international, continuously published, peer-reviewed journal that focuses on research that provides novel insights into the genome biology of all organisms, including advances in genomic medicine. Among the topics considered by the journal are genome structure and function, comparative genomics, molecular evolution, genome-scale quantitative and population genetics, proteomics, epigenomics, and systems biology. The journal also features exciting gene discoveries and reports of cutting-edge computational biology and high-throughput methodologies.
About Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press:
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is a private, nonprofit institution in New York that conducts research in cancer and other life sciences and has a variety of educational programs. Its Press, originating in 1933, is the largest of the Laboratory's five education divisions and is a publisher of books, journals, and electronic media for scientists, students, and the general public.
Genome Research issues press releases to highlight significant research studies that are published in the journal.