Publication date: January 14, 2013
Researchers have identified a characteristic of triple-negative breast cancer that may play an important role in the metastasis (spread) of the disease. Drugs that target this characteristic could provide a benefit. These results were published in Cancer Cell.
A microRNA is a small molecule that regulates the expression of genes. Distinct patterns in microRNAs have been identified for several types of cancers, but the role of microRNAs in cancer metastasis has been uncertain.
To identify microRNAs that contribute to metastasis, researchers evaluated samples of triple-negative breast cancer cells. They found that one particular microRNA-miR-708-tended to be down-regulated, meaning that its usual function was suppressed.
Further evaluation of miR-708 revealed that when it functions normally, it may reduce the ability of cancer cells to metastasize by controlling levels of a protein known as neuronatin.
For cancers in which miR-708 is not functioning normally, restoration of miR-708 activity could reduce the spread of the disease. For example, the researchers found that treatment of mice with synthetic (man-made) miR-708 reduced cancer metastasis.
The researchers have also identified the proteins that suppress miR-708. Drugs that inhibit these proteins are already being evaluated in other types of cancer, and may help miR-708 to function normally.
This research is still at an early stage, but may eventually lead to a new way of treating triple-negative breast cancer.