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Lung cancer: special gene could halt the growth of tumour cells

(Vienna, 25 February 2015) Genetic and epigenetic changes can cause the development of cancer. As a result, a number of research groups at the MedUni Vienna's Comprehensive Cancer Center (CCC) and the Vienna General Hospital are dedicating themselves to the research of specific genes. One of them bears the name ZNF677. A group of scientists led by Sabine Zöchbauer-Müller from the University Department of Internal Medicine I at the MedUni Vienna has demonstrated for the first time worldwide in a recent study that this gene may suppress the growth and migration of tumour cells.

Sabine Zöchbauer-Müller from the University Department of Internal Medicine I at the MedUni Vienna and member of the CCC, along with her colleague Gerwin Heller and their team, investigated the role of gene ZNF677 in their current study. Tumour tissue from the lungs of 101 patients with non-small-cell lung cancer was compared with samples from healthy lung tissue from the same patients. The non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is a sub-type of lung cancer and accounts for around 80 per cent of all cases of lung cancer, which amounts to around 3,500 new diagnoses each year in Austria.

It became clear that the gene had been deactivated in the tumour tissue, but not in the healthy tissue. The reason for this is DNA methylation. Sabine Zöchbauer-Müller explains: "The gene is regulated by DNA methylation. Methylation is an important biochemical mechanism in our bodies that controls which genes are active and when. If genes are methylated, they are virtually switched off."

World's first data of this kind
To investigate the importance of ZNF677 further, the researchers created cells in which too much ZNF677 was produced. It became apparent that the cells with the over-active gene grew significantly more slowly than comparison cells.

"Our results invite the conclusion that ZNF677 is a potential tumour suppressor gene, i.e. a gene that suppresses tumour growth and the migration of cells. With our study, we are presenting the world's first data on the importance of this gene in lung cancer. Our next step will be to test this data in vivo," explains the study leader.

The study was financed by the Fund for the Promotion of Scientific Research (FWF), the Austrian Society of Haematology & Medical Oncology (ÖGHO) and the Cancer Research Initiative of the MedUni Vienna.

Service: Oncotarget
“DNA methylation transcriptionally regulates the putative tumor cell growth suppressor ZNF677 in non-small cell lung cancers.” Heller G, Altenberger C, Schmid B, Marhold M, Tomasich E, Ziegler B, Müllauer L, Minichsdorfer C, Lang G, End-Pfützenreuter A, Döme B, Arns BM, Fong KM, Wright CM, Yang IA, Klepetko W, Zielinski CC, Zöchbauer-Müller S.; Oncotarget. 2015 Jan 1;6(1):394-408.