Germ Cell Genes and Cancer

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Science  24 Dec 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6012, pp. 1761-1762
DOI: 10.1126/science.1200772

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Cancer cells and germ cells share several characteristics. For instance, both have the ability to rapidly proliferate, typically do not lose the ability to divide as they age (lack senescence), and exist in undifferentiated states. Although some genes involved in cancer may initiate disease simply by activating the cell division cycle, others may spur tumors by activating early developmental pathways associated with programming for multipotency (the ability to differentiate into different cell types). On page 1824 of this issue, Janic et al. (1) show that in fruit flies a number of genes typically involved in early programming of germline cells are also involved in the formation of one type of malignant brain tumor. They also show that inactivating these germ cell genes—some of which have related genes shown to be abnormally expressed in certain human cancers—can suppress tumor growth, suggesting new avenues for therapy.