This gene mutation drives lymphoma and melanoma

A new analysis suggests thousands of people in the United States each year develop cancer driven by a specific mutation in the EZH2 gene. (Credit: iStockphoto)

Researchers have demonstrated how a genetic mutation can drive the most common type of lymphoma as well as melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

The work focused on a specific mutation of EZH2, a gene known to regulate cell fate. The team also tested an investigational drug to block a protein made by the gene.

“We have shown that the biology of tumors driven by this mutation is distinct from other types of lymphoma and melanoma, and that these tumors require persistent malfunction of EZH2 for growth,” says Norman Sharpless, director of the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. “And with our collaborators, we have shown that a potential new drug designed to target EZH2 mutations in such cancers is very active in our laboratory models.”

This specific mutation is a relatively common event in diverse cancers, occurring in approximately 20 percent of B-cell lymphomas, 5 percent of melanomas, and at lower frequency in a variety of other cancers, Sharpless says. This analysis suggests thousands of people in the United States annually develop cancer driven by this mutation.

The researchers determined that a mutation in the EZH2 gene alone is sufficient to drive B-cell lymphoma, whereas in melanoma, the EZH2 mutation occurs in combination with mutations of the BRAF gene, which occurs in about half of melanoma patients.

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These findings, published in Nature Medicine, could have important implications for both treatment and further drug development, says the study’s first author George P. Souroullas, a research scientist at UNC Lineberger and the UNC School of Medicine genetics department.

Specifically, their findings in melanoma suggest that inhibitors of the protein created by the EZH2 gene might work well in combination with inhibitors of BRAF, which are already approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as melanoma therapy.

And their findings suggest that EZH2 inhibitors could be an effective strategy in some patients with melanoma or B-cell lymphoma, he adds.

“While there has been significant progress in recent years against cancers such as lymphoma and melanoma, many patients still fail these newer therapies and need further options for therapy,” Sharpless says.

The National Cancer Institute, the National Institute on Aging, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute funded the study, which included additional researchers at UNC and Ohio State University.

Source: UNC-Chapel Hill