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Gene activity change can produce cancer

Mouse study shows that epigenetic alterations can cause tumors

MARKS OF CHANGE  Shutting down a gene that normally fends off tumors is enough to cause cancer, a new study of mice shows. The large white mouse carries this epigenetic change in some of its cells (brown marks) while the brown mouse carries it in all of its cells.

Changing a gene’s activity can cause cancer, even though the DNA itself hasn’t mutated, a new study demonstrates.

The finding is some of the first direct evidence that epigenetic changes can cause cancer. Epigenetic modifications are chemical tags tacked onto DNA or associated proteins. Such tags alter gene activity without changing the information in genes.

Scientists have long suspected that epigenetic modifications contribute to cancer. “The problem is, all of the studies we’ve done so far have been correlative,” says cancer epigeneticist Lanlan Shen, of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who led the new study. Those studies showed that epigenetic tagging is different in cancer cells than in healthy cells. However, the research couldn’t establish whether the epigenetic changes spurred the cancer’s growth or were one of its consequences.

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