Mayo Clinic researchers discover how key cancer protein works

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Mayo Clinic researchers are the first to describe what goes wrong during the growth cycle of certain cells that can lead to inherited forms of breast cancer. Knowing the nature of this biochemical modification is a first step to designing drugs that can correct it to stop cancer.

The Mayo Clinic research finding appears in today's issue of the journal Science (www.sciencemag.org/content/current ). It is important because it solves an aspect of a mystery that cancer researchers worldwide have been intensely investigating. Their question is: How do the regulating mechanisms of the "cell-cycle" work?

The cell cycle is the complex, natural -- and normally orderly -- process by which cells reproduce. The Mayo Clinic research reveals the details of a molecular mechanism involved in cell cycle regulation of a gene known as the "BRCA1 tumor suppressor gene." They focused on this gene because an estimated 50 percent of inherited breast cancers are linked to growth errors -- also called mutations -- in this gene. They hypothesized that a specific kind of biochemical modification was involved in disrupting the cell cycle to cause BRCA1 mutations. And they were right.

"With this breast cancer gene, the understanding is that if this gene is mutated it may trigger additional mutations throughout your lifetime and that contributes to a lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. We wanted to understand the molecular mechanism behind this," says Junjie Chen, Ph.D., of the Mayo Clinic Department of Oncology, and lead author of the Science report. "Now that we understand one aspect of it, this allows us to go to the next level, such as how to use our understanding to target cells so we can gain control of the cell cycle to stop cancers."

In the language of science, their principal finding is this: That a specific biochemical modification known as "phosphorylation

Contact: Robert Nellis
Mayo Clinic

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