Friday, 28 December 2012

The effect of BRCA1 on different types of stem cells

A recent study, published by researchers at Université libre de Bruxelles  has unveiled the role of BRCA1 in the maintenance and regulation of hair follicle stem cells. According to the researchers, their findings are very important for understanding how DNA repair mechanisms function in different types of adult stem cells and may help the scientific community gain a better insight on why BRCA1 mutations are mainly  associated with breast and ovarian cancer.

In their study the research team, led by Cédric Blanpain, describes the crucial role the BRCA1 gene has in the maintenance and preservation of hair follicle stem cells.

In general, BRCA1 is a gene responsible for producing  a protein called "breast cancer type 1 susceptibility protein". The protein is responsible for either repairing cells with damaged DNA or if they are beyond repair to simply destroy them. If the gene itself is damaged, DNA can't be repaired properly, and the risk of breast and/or ovarian cancer is increased.

picture of the BRCA1 protein
BRCA1 protein

Specifically, the study showed that the deactivation of the gene in the epidermis resulted in hair follicle stem cells with high levels of DNA damage and increased cell death ratio. On the other hand, another type of stem cell, responsible for forming the skin barrier and the sebaceous glands, appeared to be unaffected as it continued to function normally, despite the total lack of BRCA1 protein. 

These findings are very intriguing, as Peggy Sotiropoulou explained:

"We were very surprised to see that distinct types of cells residing within the same tissue may exhibit such profoundly different responses to the deletion of the same, crucial gene for DNA repair gene" 

The researchers believe that their findings are very important for the understanding of how DNA repair mechanisms work in different types of adult stem cells. Moreover, their findings have the potential to help scientists describe and explain why BRCA1 mutations are mainly responsible for breast and ovarian cancers and not other types of cancer as well.

Video explaining BRCA1 & BRCA2 mutations

Cédric Blanpain is a MD/PhD, Professor at Université libre de Bruxelles 

Sotiropoulou PA, Karambelas AE, Debaugnies M, Candi A, Bouwman P, Moers V, Revenco T, Rocha AS, Sekiguchi K, Jonkers J, & Blanpain C (2013). BRCA1 deficiency in skin epidermis leads to selective loss of hair follicle stem cells and their progeny. Genes & development, 27 (1), 39-51 PMID: 23271346

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