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J Mol Med (Berl). 2001 Oct;79(10):566-73.

Recent advances in molecular genetics of breast cancer.

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Ruder Bosković Institute, Division of Molecular Medicine, Bijenićka 54, P.O. Box 180, 10002 Zagreb, Croatia.


Breast cancer is among the most common tumors affecting women. It is characterized by a number of genetic aberrations. Some 5-10% of cases are thought to be inherited. The hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome includes genetic alterations of various susceptibility genes, particularly BRCA1 and BRCA2. Breast tumors of patients with germ-line mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have more genetic defects than sporadic breast tumors. Here we review new findings in the function of BRCA1 gene function. Accumulation of somatic genetic changes during tumor progression map follows a specific and more aggressive pathway of chromosome damage in these individuals. A major BRCA1 downstream target gene is the DNA damage-responsive gene GADD45. Induction of BRCA1 triggers apoptosis by activation of c-Jun N-terminal kinase/stress-activated protein kinase (JNK/SAPK). BRCA1 interacts with SWI/SNF, a chromatin remodeling complex important in gene expression. Recent advances in genomics and bioinformatics, particularly in DNA-sequencing approaches and DNA-chip technology are expected to improve identification of small molecules, which might be drugable targets. New knowledge about the genetic portrait of breast tumor is coming from differential gene expression profiling using microarrays. Human genome studies, as well as development of "DNA chips," provide a window for observing patterns of gene activity in cells, which will contribute to more accurate cancer classification. However, substantial work connected with analytical and statistical tools must still be carried out to confirm the function of differentially expressed genes. Knowledge of the molecular characteristics of breast tumor has already started to make possible the identification of breast cancer patients who could benefit from therapies that target those features. Progress in basic research into signaling provides the opportunity to attack at least some signal-transduction targets involved in proliferation, survival, invasion, angiogenesis, metastasis, and resistance. Exciting knowledge in breast cancer biology is rapidly accumulating in parallel with recent developments in rational selection and validation of relevant targets that provide unique opportunities for development of "intelligent" therapeutics.

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