Cancer Cells May Streamline Their Genomes to Proliferate More Easily

Researchers in the laboratory of Investigator Jennifer Gerton, PhD, have provided evidence suggesting that cancer cells might streamline their genomes in order to proliferate more easily. The study shows that cancer genomes lose copies of repetitive sequences known as ribosomal DNA. While downsizing might enable these cells to replicate faster, Gerton suspected that this streamlined genome would come at a cost.

Previous studies on budding yeast showed that whittling down the number of copies of ribosomal DNA created a genome that was very sensitive to DNA damage, so to see if this same result held true in higher organisms, Gerton’s team treated cancer cells from mice with four different DNA-damaging drugs. They found that the cancer cells were more sensitive to DNA damage than normal cells. They believe this weakness could potentially be exploited by DNA-damaging chemotherapeutics. “If what we found in mice holds true for human cancer, it could be very useful in the clinic,” says Gerton.

The findings were published June 22, 2017, in PLOS Genetics.