Oncogene mutation hijacks splicing process to promote growth and survival

An international team of researchers – led by principal investigator Paul S. Mischel, MD, a member of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and professor in the Department of Pathology at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine – has found that a singular gene mutation helps brain cancer cells to not just survive, but grow tumors rapidly by altering the splicing of genes that control cellular metabolism.

The findings are published online in the journal Cell Metabolism.

Mischel, who heads the Ludwig Institute's molecular pathology laboratory based at UC San Diego, and colleagues focused upon a process called alternative splicing, in which a single gene encodes for multiple proteins by including or excluding different, specific regions of DNA.

Alternative splicing is a tightly regulated and normal activity in healthy cells. For Mischel and colleagues in Los Angeles, Ohio and Japan, the question was whether mutations of a gene called EGFRvIII caused differential alternative splicing in glioblastoma multiformes (GBMs), the most common and aggressive type of malignant brain tumor.

Median survival after GBM diagnosis is just 15 months with standard-of care radiation and chemotherapy. Without treatment, it is less than five months.

The scientists were particularly interested in whether the EGFRvIII mutation induced alternative splicing events that resulted in deregulation of normal cellular metabolism.