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Fusion genes in breast cancer



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Batty, Elizabeth 


Fusion genes caused by chromosomal rearrangements are a common and important feature in haematological malignancies, but have until recently been seen as unimportant in epithelial cancers. The discovery of recurrent fusion genes in prostate and lung cancer suggests that fusion genes may play an important role in epithelial carcinogenesis, and that they have been previously under-reported due to the difficulties of cytogenetic analysis of solid tumours. In particular, breast cancers often have complex, highly rearranged karyotypes which have proved difficult to analyse using classical cytogenetic techniques. The aim of this project was to search for fusion genes in breast cancer by using high-resolution mapping of chromosome rearrangements in breast cancer cell lines. Mapping the chromosome rearrangements was initially done using high-resolution DNA microarrays and fluorescence in- situ hybridisation, but moved to high-throughput sequencing as it became available. Interesting candidate genes identified from the mapped chromosome rearrangements were investigated on a larger set of cell lines and primary tumours. The complete karyotypes of two breast cancer cell lines were constructed using a combination of microarrays, fluorescence microscopy, and high-throughput sequencing. A number of potential fusion genes were identified in these two cell lines. Although no expressed fusion genes were found, the complete karyotypes gave insight into the number and mechanisms of chromosome rearrangement in breast cancer, and identified interesting candidate genes which may be of importance in tumourigenesis. Two genes which were fused in other breast cancer cell lines, BCAS3 and ODZ4, were disrupted by chromosome rearrangements and identified as interesting candidate genes in tumorigenesis. A bioinformatic pipeline to process high-throughput sequencing data was set up and validated, and shown to more accurately predict fusion genes than other methods, and can be used to investigate further cell lines and tumours for recurrent fusion genes. The pipeline was used to analyse data from 3 other breast cancer cell lines and predict chromosomal rearrangements and fusion genes, several of which were found to be expressed. Of the fusions predicted in the cell line ZR-75-30, 7 expressed fusion genes were identified, and may have functional significance in breast cancer.





Cancer, Molecular biology


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
This work was supported by a grant from Breast Cancer Campaign.