Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Scientific Communities
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

In Cancer, an Embryonic Mechanism Gone Awry

Published: Monday, October 08, 2012
Last Updated: Monday, October 08, 2012
Bookmark and Share
Many types of cancer could originate from a mechanism that cells use to silence genes.

This process, which is essential in embryonic development, might be accidentally reactivated in tumor cells, according to EPFL scientists.

There are some genes that are only activated in the very first days of an embryo’s existence. Once they have accomplished their task, they are shut down forever, unlike most of our genes, which remain active throughout our lives. EPFL scientists have unveiled part of this strange mechanism. The same process, accidentally initiated later in life, could be responsible for many kinds of cancer. The discovery is described in a recent article in the journal Cell Reports.

The researchers identified a group of proteins that play a key role in this phenomenon. They bind to a DNA sequence near the gene, and substitute one DNA element for another, essentially “marking” the sequence. This phenomenon is known as “methylation.” Once the marker is in place, the cellular machinery recognizes the sign and maintains the gene in a dormant state.

“It’s an extremely elegant mechanism. The genes are needed right at the beginning of embryonic development, but rather than deactivate them every time a cell divides, the job is done in one fell swoop, once the genes are no longer required,” explains EPFL professor Didier Trono, who co-authored the article. “This process is also involved in the control of viral sequences, which make up almost half of our genome, and must be inactivated very early in development.”

This gene-silencing mechanism, which normally takes place in a several-day-old embryo, can also occur accidentally later in life. In many cancer cells, certain genes have been marked by methylation; they have been silenced. If, for example, the gene responsible for controlling cell division has been methylated, the consequences are all too easy to imagine. “The embryonic process, which is designed to silence certain genes, can be fortuitously reactivated, leading to the formation of tumor cells.”

It is still not understood why the process stops after the first days of embryogenesis, even though many of the active proteins continue to be expressed in the cell, says Trono. “If we can figure out how this cellular clock works, then we would perhaps be able to understand how the mechanism is reactivated later, leading to the development of cancer.”

Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,800+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More Than 4,000+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Antidepressants Plus Blood-Thinners Slow Down Brain Cancer
EPFL scientists have found that combining antidepressants with anticoagulants slows down brain tumors (gliomas) in mice.
Monday, September 28, 2015
DNA Sequencing Improved by Slowing Down
EPFL scientists have developed a method that improves the accuracy of DNA sequencing up to a thousand times.
Thursday, September 24, 2015
Preventing Crystallization to Improve Drug Efficiency
Esther Amstad and an international team of researchers have developed a method to increase the solubility of poorly soluble substances, such as many of the newly developed drugs.
Thursday, September 17, 2015
The Brain is Not as Cramped as We Thought
Using an innovative method, EPFL scientists show that the brain is not as compact as we have thought all along.
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
A Highly Sensitive Graphene Based Sensor
Researchers at EPFL and ICFO have developed a sensor made from graphene to detect molecules such as proteins and drugs.
Friday, July 17, 2015
New Method For Measuring The Concentration Of Medicines In The Blood
Researchers at EPFL have come up with a quick and portable new device for measuring the amount of medicinal drugs in blood.
Thursday, May 14, 2015
Breath Test For Detecting Head And Neck Cancer
A portable device can detect the presence of certain types of cancer in people's breath.
Monday, April 13, 2015
Comparing The Genomes Of The Leprosy Bacteria
EPFL scientists have compared for the first time the genomes of the two bacteria species that cause leprosy. The study shows how the two species evolved from a common ancestor 13.9 million years ago, and offers new insights into their biology that could lead to new treatments.
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Lab-on-a-Chip to Study Single Cells
Scientists at EPFL have developed a new lab-on-a-chip technique to analyze single cells from entire population. The new method, which uses beads and microfluidics can change the way we study mixed populations of cells, such as those of tumors.
Monday, February 16, 2015
Rice Could Make Cholera Treatment More Effective
Current rehydration therapy for cholera could increase the toxicity of the cholera bacterium.
Friday, December 05, 2014
Graphene Nanoribbons for “Reading” DNA
One of the methods used for examining the molecules in a liquid consists in passing the fluid through a nano-sized hole so as to detect their passage.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Hundreds of Biochemical Analyses on a Single Device
Scientists at EPFL and the University of Geneva have developed a microfluidic device smaller than a domino that can simultaneously measure up to 768 biomolecular interactions.
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Scientific News
High Throughput Mass Spectrometry-Based Screening Assay Trends
Dr John Comley provides an insight into HT MS-based screening with a focus on future user requirements and preferences.
Revolutionary Technologies Developed to Improve Outcomes for Lung Cancer Patients
Breath test to detect lung cancer brings oxygen directly to the wound.
NIH Supports New Studies to Find Alzheimer’s Biomarkers in Down Syndrome
Initiative will track dementia onset, progress in Down syndrome volunteers.
Dementia Linked to Deficient DNA Repair
Mutant forms of breast cancer factor 1 (BRCA1) are associated with breast and ovarian cancers but according to new findings, in the brain the normal BRCA1 gene product may also be linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Using Drug-Susceptible Parasites to Fight Drug Resistance
Researchers at the University of Georgia have developed a model for evaluating a potential new strategy in the fight against drug-resistant diseases.
Boosting Breast Cancer Treatment
To more efficiently treat breast cancer, scientists have been researching molecules that selectively bind to cancer cells and deliver a substance that can kill the tumor cells, for several years.
New Gene Map Reveals Cancer’s Achilles’ Heel
Team of researchers switches off almost 18,000 genes
New Discovery Sheds Light on Disease Risk
Gaps between genes interact to influence the risk of acquiring disease.
How Cells ‘Climb’ to Build Fruit Fly Tracheas
Mipp1 protein helps cells sprout “fingers” for gripping.
Research Finding Could Lead to Targeted Therapies for IBD
Findings published online in Cell Reports.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,800+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
4,000+ scientific videos