Awry protein linked to breast cancer

October 9th, 2008 - 11:16 am ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Oct 9 (IANS) A developmental protein like Notch that sometimes goes awry has been linked to breast cancer, according to a new study.The breast cancer team at Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI), led by Jane Visvader and Geoff Lindeman from the Victorian Breast Cancer Research Consortium, have identified important roles for Notch genes in regulating breast development and function.

This discovery has important implications for breast cancer, since elevated levels of Notch have been linked to breast cancer. The advance builds on the group’s 2006 discovery of the breast stem cell in mice, according to a release.

Research carried out by Toula Bouras and colleagues has uncovered dual functions for Notch in breast tissue. First, Notch helps restrict breast stem cell number, so that when it is ’switched off’, there is a resultant expansion in breast stem cells.

Second, Notch is important for ensuring that stem cells produce the sleeve of cells that normally line breast ducts. These ‘luminal’ cells may be the cells that give rise to common types of breast cancer, according to the WEHI release.

Thus, Notch helps to orchestrate the formation of breast tissue: it plays an important role in controlling stem cell numbers and instructs stem cells to produce luminal cells.

Significantly, Bouras and colleagues found that errant activation of Notch resulted in uncontrolled growth of luminal precursors, leading to the formation of breast tumours.

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