Rutgers Study Helps People Uncover New Thyroid Cancer Mutations

New Brunswick N. J. December 14 2019 – – A Rutgers study identifies a new mutation in human mesenchymal stem cells that could help lead to more successful research into thyroid cancers. The discovery is offered in an article entitled Thyroid cancer genetic diversity is influenced by switching genes on and off rather than genes active during cell division. The study led by researchers at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and published in Nature demonstrates that human mesenchymal stem cells are subject to genetic switches called epigenetics which represent natural changes to DNA that are able to regulate gene expression. Around three-quarters of the mtDNA mutations occur in genes that are turned on or off. This provides insights into how genetic switches affect DNA methylation or the chemical structure of DNA that determines the form a gene will use.

Human mesenchymal stem cells are invaluable because they can divide indefinitely. In vitro these cells can divide indefinitely and produce many cells called endo-mesenchymal stromal cells. Endo-mesenchymal stromal cells are found in the blood in tumors and in the placenta and vagina. Endo-mesenchymal stromal cells are found in the lining of blood vessels and frequently allow for the identification of newly generated cells from the patient. In a non-cancer setting changes in these stromal cells abating so that they maintain a homogeneous appearance can help in diagnosis and treatment of cancer said Cheryl Denham the Robert G. Jeffery Professor of Lymphoma and a member of the Rutgers Cancer Institute where she is Director of the Department of Oncology Developmental Cell Culture and Stem Cell Biology.

The study showed that endo-mesenchymal stem cells are capable of adjusting their epigenetic state and create a genetic switch to activate switch genes on during cell division. The researchers are able to show that one of the genes that is activated during cell division is the marker BDNF1. BDNF1 catalyzes the transformation of genes that are active when cells divide accronotoxin is produced.

Our work provides a mechanistic explanation for how these essential thyroid genes can be controlled and why they are sensitive to epigenetic controls. BDNF1 is the target of those regulate gene switches that changed in the thyroid gland; it was not a gene we expected to discover. The BDNF1 mutation identified in this study underscores the importance of understanding thyroid cancer genes particularly those we have discovered said first author Stephen J. Rajoy a doctoral candidate in the lab of Denham.

Learning more about endo-mesenchymal stem cells – mesenchymal stem cells – understanding their role in thyroid cancer research will expand the research landscape and enhance the ability to study thyroid cancer in a more well-studied mouse model.