Scientists from the Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) in San Antonio today (March 4, 2016) published work that provides deeper insight into how the so-called “Angelina Jolie” gene, BRCA1, functions in normal breast tissue and how its loss results in breast cancer. The CTRC -- a National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center -- is part of the University of Texas (UT) Medicine San Antonio, the clinical practice of the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. BRCA1 is known to suppress cancer by repairing breaks in DNA, the molecule that contains the genetic blueprint of each cell. This DNA damage occurs with aging and environmental insults. In the new study, published online Nature Communications, CTRC researchers found that BRCA1 also serves as a limiter or governor on a gene called COBRA1 that regulates breast cell growth. The new open-access article is titled “Genetic suppression reveals DNA repair-independent antagonism between BRCA1 and COBRA1 in mammary gland development.” "We now have solid and compelling evidence that BRCA1 in breast tissue is doing something independent of DNA repair," said study lead author Rong Li, Ph.D., Professor of Molecular Medicine at the Health Science Center. "We still think DNA repair is important for BRCA1 to suppress tumor development, but we just don't think it's the whole story." Because DNA repair is needed in every cell of the body, scientists, including Dr. Li, have puzzled over why loss of BRCA1 function predisposes women to only breast and ovarian cancers. Also, diminished BRCA1 activity doesn't affect men significantly, as it does women.
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