Medical News and Perspectives
May 19, 2004

Scientists Probe Shutting Down Cancer Cells by Awakening Silenced Genes

JAMA. 2004;291(19):2301-2305. doi:10.1001/jama.291.19.2301

Orlando—Before any perceptible signs of disease, even before a single tumor cell divides and starts a malignant cascade, the first event that leads to cancer is a change in gene expression. Scientists have discovered many cases in which mutations in the DNA sequence—such as point mutations or deletions—alter gene expression and set the stage for cancer.

But as scientists strive to decipher which genetic changes can make cells cancerous, they are also discovering that not all such changes involve mutations that alter the DNA sequence. Rather, some are a result of "epigenetic" modifications, heritable changes in gene function that occur without any mutation in gene sequence.

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