Research using mouse models reveals a novel key player in the initiation of colon cancer

Gastric and colorectal cancers account for more than 1 million deaths worldwide every year and several research groups have been working to identify the molecular events that result in the initiation and progression of these tumors. It has been established that interfering with the function of one gene, called Adenomatous Polyposis Coli (APC) has a profound effect on the cells lining the innermost layer of the colon (called the epithelium) and causes them to lose control over their proliferation leading to tumors.

Now Klaus Kaestner from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine has headed a study that identifies another molecular player influencing the initiation of colon cancers.

This study will be published in the February 1 issue of the journal Genes and Development.

An animal model with an inactivating mutation within the mouse equivalent of the APC gene displays very similar pathology as seen in human colon cancers and develop tumor growths called polyps in their colons, eventually leading to death. Inactivating the APC gene was found, as in human cells, to cause the accumulation of a protein called beta-catenin in the nuclei of these cells.

Kaestner's group had earlier published research on a transcription factor called Foxl1 that is also expressed in the colon, but in a different layer of cells, adjacent to the epithelium, called the mesenchyme. They had seen that mice that are deficient for the Foxl1 protein show a similar accumulation of the beta-catenin protein in the epithelium layer, yet they do not get cancers. However, combining the Foxl1 deficiency with an inactive APC gene had drastic outcomes. The group compared animals that were partially deficient for APC (containing one normal copy of the APC gene and one mutant inactive copy) in the presence or absence of Foxl1. Both animals developed tumors, however, in the absence of Foxl1, tumor frequency was more than 7-fold higher.

In addition, t

Contact: Heather Cosel
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

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