May 25, 2012Science and Technology
Scientists unveil epigenetic "driver" events for cancer cell survival

Cancer cells are characterized by uncontrolled proliferation due to genetic and/or epigenetic changes. The wide scope of such changes poses a key challenge to researchers: what distinguishes “driver” events behind tumor formation from “passenger” events accumulated as the phenotype progresses? A recent study by the Jones Laboratory addresses this question, identifying “driver” events based on DNA methylation patterns that permit cancer cell survival. DNA methylation is an epigenetic process by which gene expression can be altered, typically associated with gene silencing. The team identified several genomic regions whose epigenetic modifications serve as “driver” events. This study underscores the importance of epigenetic processes such as DNA methylation in anti-cancer treatment. Epigenetics present a high-impact therapeutic target by virtue of its ability to alter gene expression while leaving the underlying DNA sequence untouched.

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