Mouse study shows that epigenetic alterations can cause tumors
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.
Shen and her colleagues went after hard evidence that cancer could result from