Researchers Identify Genetic Pathway Responsible for Metastatic Prostate Cancer

Four genes identified that are together a pathway responsible for driving metastatic prostate cancer.

Boston, MA, March 14, 2010 --( While early detection has reduced mortality from prostate cancer, there is no curative treatment for advanced, metastatic disease and one in 30 men are expected to die from metastatic prostate cancer. Still, the current understanding of the mechanisms that drive tumor progression and metastasis is limited. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) have identified four genes that together are a pathway responsible for driving metastatic prostate cancer. These findings represent the first pathway shown to play a direct causal role in driving metastatic prostate cancer and are published online February 14 and will appear in an upcoming print issue of Nature Medicine.

“In this study, we show that this oncogene-tumor suppressor cascade – or this pathway of four genes – induces prostate tumor development and metastasis in a mouse model,” said Karen Cichowski, PhD, a researcher and assistant professor of Medicine in the Division of Genetics at BWH and senior author of the paper. “We were also able to demonstrate that this pathway is deregulated in human prostate cancer and may predict outcome for patients with prostate cancer.”

Performing both protein and transcriptional pattern analysis in more than 250 human prostate tumors, researchers were able to determine that this genetic pathway was deregulated in patients with more advanced disease, and if it was deregulated the patient was more likely to develop metastatic prostate cancer.

“This finding has important clinical implications, because it suggests that this pathway may be a prognostic indicator of future progression of prostate cancer,” Cichowski said.

Cichowski, in collaboration with Massimo Loda, MD and William Hahn, MD, PhD, physicians in Medical Oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Junxia Min, a fellow in the Division of Genetics at BWH and the first author of the paper, and colleagues identified this pathway by performing a cellular screen of genes within the RasGAP gene family. It is known that one gene in this family is associated with different cancers, but other genes in this family have not been extensively researched. They found that DAB2IP is a new cancer-causing gene and that its loss triggers a cascade of signals: some responsible for initiating tumor growth, and others responsible for causing metastasis. By utilizing a genetically-engineered cell system in which cells are injected into mouse prostates, researchers used genetic approaches to identify both the upstream genes responsible for controlling DAB2IP and essential downstream signals, thus allowing researchers to identify the entire genetic pathway.

“One of the genes in this pathway encodes an enzyme, and from a therapeutic standpoint may be ‘drugable’. Therefore further work may ultimately lead to the development of therapies that could impact both primary prostate cancers and metastases,” Cichowski said.

This research was supported by grants from the US Department of Defense and the Ludwig Center at Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center.

About Brigham and Women's Hospital:-
Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) is a 777-bed nonprofit teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School and a founding member of Partners HealthCare, an integrated health care delivery network. In July of 2008, the hospital opened the Carl J. and Ruth Shapiro Cardiovascular Center, the most advanced center of its kind. BWH is committed to excellence in patient care with expertise in virtually every specialty of medicine and surgery. The BWH medical preeminence dates back to 1832, and today that rich history in clinical care is coupled with its national leadership in quality improvement and patient safety initiatives and its dedication to educating and training the next generation of health care professionals. Through investigation and discovery conducted at its Biomedical Research Institute (BRI), BWH is an international leader in basic, clinical and translational research on human diseases, involving more than 860 physician-investigators and renowned biomedical scientists and faculty supported by more than $416 M in funding. BWH is also home to major landmark epidemiologic population studies, including the Nurses' and Physicians' Health Studies and the Women's Health Initiative. For more information about BWH, please visit

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