Identification of prostate cancer genes opens door to new treatments
22 May 2008
For the first time researchers have identified the genetic profile of
prostate cancer stem cells. The study by the YCR Cancer Research Unit at
the University of York, England, and Pro-cure Therapeutics Ltd, could
lead to new ways for treating the cancer.
The findings, published in Genome Biology , revealed 581
genes that are differentially expressed in certain prostate cancer
cells, highlighting several pathways important in the cancer stem-cell
biology, and offering targets for new chemopreventative and
“For the first time we are looking at the subpopulation of cancer
cells which actually initiate new tumours” explains Anne Collins, who
co-ordinated the study. “The genetic profiling we have carried out
should stimulate new lines of research directed towards stem cell
treatments for cancer."
The cells in the study represent less than 0.1% of prostate cancer
tumours, and have properties that mark them out as cancer stem cells.
The cells renew themselves, are highly invasive, and have a longer
lifetime than normal stem cells. They also feature a primitive
epithelial phenotype and can differentiate to recapitulate phenotypes
seen in prostate tumours. The cells are found in all stages and types of
Expression profiling of prostate cancers typically uses tumour cell
mass samples to identify individual genes. In this study, researchers
harnessed advances in microarray and target labelling technologies to
produce a functionally annotated expression profile of these prostate
cancer stem cells.
The research team created a malignant stem cell signature by
combining genes significantly overexpressed in stem cells with those
significantly overexpressed in malignant stem cells. Quantitative RT-PCR,
flow cytometry and immunocytochemistry were used to validate the gene
Genes associated with inflammation were prominent in the cancer stem
cell expression profile. Potential therapeutic target NFκB is known to
promote cell survival. The researchers showed that an NFκB inhibitor
triggered programmed cell death in cancer stem cells, but spared normal
stem cells. This provides a potential therapeutic target for this rare
group of cells, which are unlikely to be affected by current
1. Birnie R, Bryce SD, Roome C, et al. Gene expression profiling of
human prostate cancer stem cells reveals a pro-inflammatory phenotype
and the importance of extracellular matrix interactions. Genome
Biology, 20 May 2008. 9:R83doi:10.1186/gb-2008-9-5-r83.