The gene has been identified as Wnt1, and may help explain why increased levels of a protein called MTA1 (metastasis-associated protein 1) are oncogenic in certain types of breast cancer.
Wnt pathways govern normal processes like embryonic development and the communication between cells in healthy people.
But for reasons unknown, certain types of Wnt proteins sometimes go awry, sending off cascades of signals that turn normal cells into cancerous ones.
Rakesh Kumar at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and his team found that MTA1 expression triggers cancer-causing signals from Wnt1 in human breast cancer cells and this Wnt1 signalling cascade leads to tumours.
Because inflammation may drive MTA1, and since inflammation is believed to drive certain forms of cancer, the study shows one reason why cancer progression has been correlated with other inflammation-inducers.
"We've raised the next level question," says Kumar, "and now we're going back into the lab to ask if this pathway plays a role in inflammation-related cancer," Kumar said.
The study has been published in the August 15 issue of Cancer Research. (ANI)