A red flag for lethal prostate cancer

ANN ARBOR, MI High levels of activity in a gene called EZH2 could be a warning sign of metastatic prostate cancer, according to scientists at the University of Michigan's Comprehensive Cancer Center.

In an article published in the Oct. 10 issue of Nature, U-M scientist Arul M. Chinnaiyan, M.D., Ph.D., and his research team used advanced DNA microarray technology to show that EZH2 expression was at "the top of the list" of 55 genes found to be more active in metastatic prostate cancer than in localized prostate cancer. This is the first study linking EZH2 to solid tumors, according to Chinnaiyan.

When the EZH2 gene is active, the cell uses its coded instructions to produce EZH2 protein. U-M scientists believe a future diagnostic test for high levels of this protein could serve as a red flag for physicians and help save the lives of men with the most dangerous form of the disease.

"We found the greatest EZH2 overexpression in metastatic prostate cancer tissue. At this point, it's unclear whether the gene plays a role in cancer's development or is simply an indicator of lethal progression," says Chinnaiyan, an assistant professor of pathology and urology in the U-M Medical School.

EZH2 is one of several related proteins that control a cell's genetic memory and interfere with transcription the process cells use to transcribe or copy their genetic code. According to Chinnaiyan, it is similar to a gene recently shown to shut down transcription in fruit flies.

If additional research and human clinical trials confirm the U-M results, a test for EZH2 protein could, for the first time, allow physicians to identify accurately those men who need immediate, aggressive treatment to prevent the cancer from spreading outside the prostate. Once prostate cancer metastasizes, or spreads, to other organs, it is usually incurable.

"Over the past 50 years, there has been no significant improvement in clinical outcome for men diagnosed

Contact: Sally Pobojewski, Kara Gavin
University of Michigan Health System

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