Specific gene increases susceptibility to breast cancer

May 6, 2008

Much work has been done to identify genetic variations that predispose women to breast cancer. Previous work showed that variants in the gene called fibroblast growth factor receptor 2 (FGFR2) were associated with increased risk of the disease, but how these variants translated into increased risk was unknown.

A new paper by Kerstin Meyer and colleagues, published this week in the open-access journal PLoS Biology, shows how specific changes in the FGFR2 gene alter the way regulatory molecules bind to it, leading to increased gene expression, which, in turn, increases the risk of developing breast cancer.

By comparing all of the tiny differences in the genomes of people with breast cancer to those in a control population, FGFR2 had been flagged up as a region of the genome that is consistently different between the two groups. FGFR2 encodes a protein that sits in the membrane of cells and works in a signalling pathway important for cell growth.

This study, conducted in the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Research Institute, has identified just what these slight genetic changes mean at the molecular level. FGFR2 genes altered at two specific points have a greater affinity for binding certain transcription factors—regulatory proteins that influence gene expression patterns. Because of this additional binding, more FGFR2 protein is produced in cells carrying the mutation and this seems to be enough to increase the risk of cancer a small but significant amount.

Interestingly, the mutation occurs not in the coding regions of the genes (the bits translated into protein by cellular machinery), but rather, in an intron (a region of DNA found amongst the coding bits). The two alterations therefore affect the regulation of the gene, but the proteins produced are normal; there is too much of it for the cells to develop as normal, instead becoming cancerous.

Citation: Meyer KB, Maia A-T, O’Reilly M, Teschendorff AE, Chin S-F, et al. (2008) Allele-specific up-regulation of FGFR2 increases susceptibility to breast cancer. PLoS Biol 6(5):e108. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060108

Source: Public Library of Science

Explore further: Genetic variants may affect the risk of breast cancer in women with BRCA2 mutations

Related Stories

First confirmed common genetic risk factors for breast cancer

May 29, 2007

The most powerful genetic analysis of the DNA codes of over 40,000 women -- including those with breast cancer as well as those without the disease – has uncovered five common genetic variants that increase an individual’s ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.