Cancer stem cells have the ability to self-renew and thereby drive the development and maintenance of tumours. Researchers now show how cancer-triggering oncogenes can allow blood cells to acquire this ability and thus become leukaemia stem cells.
In a paper published online in Nature, Scott Armstrong and his colleagues describe how they introduced an oncogene into mouse haematopoietic (blood-cell producing) progenitor cells and then isolated cancer stem cells from the resulting leukaemias. Comparing the profile of active genes in these cells with the blood cells from which they had developed showed that the oncogene ramps up a specific subset of the genes active also in normal blood stem cells. These genes confer on cells the ability to self-renew. A subset of these genes is also expressed in human leukaemias associated with certain oncogenes.
Thus although cancer is thought to start often in normal stem cells, at least some oncogenic events can drive cancer from other cells by switching on stem cell genes.
Scott Armstrong (Harvard Medical School Boston, MA, USA)
Article available online.
See also News & Views by Emmanuelle Passegue (Developmental and Stem Cell Biology Program and the Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, 513 Parnassus Avenue, San Francisco, California 94314, USA; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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