On BioScience and Life and Such

Posts Tagged ‘cancer’

Calculating your health predictions

In Uncategorized on December 2, 2009 at 3:01 pm

post to news.thinkgene.com

Casio COLLEGE FX-100 Pocket Calculator
Image by psd via Flickr

In our lab we’re setting up the PCA3-test designed to aid prostate cancer diagnostics. The test is representative of many emerging diagnostic tests in that it is a) a supplement to existing testing and b) useful only in a subset of conditions.

The PCA3-test complements results from digital rectal examination, PSA tests,  and prostate biopsies. Three tests that until recently have constituted the cornerstones of prostate cancer screening and diagnostics. The relationship between the results from these tests is dynamic and interpretation of test results is often complicated, sometimes very confusing and can, in the worst case, be very uncertain. Add the gene expression results from the PCA3-test and you have  a lot of valuable information, but a tough time filtering it into useful clinical information.

Physicians will learn how to combine the information either in med-school or in update learning courses later in their career. A slow and sometimes insufficient way to convey diagnostic information to the clinic, treating physician and ultimately, the patient.

Thankfully, we live in the information age and medicine 2.0 is well underway. Now the doctor or the patient can separately or together get online assistance in interpreting prostate cancer test-results. Well designed and user-friendly calculators like the “Risk of Biopsy Detectable Prostate Cancer” calculator or prostatecancer-riskcalculator.com (professional use) will help anyone undertand and begin to interpret lab-results. A big step forward in my opinion since information flow becomes quick and targeted.

Such calculators have also been made available for cancer risk prediction:  nomograms.org, for Marevan/Warfarin dosing: Warfarindosing.org, and as demonstrated in a previous post, for Testosterone: Testosterone.

There are probably a lot of calculators out there that I haven’t found yet and it’s highly likely that many more will be developed.

It seems clear to me that interpretation of clinical lab-results may not remain entirely in the physician domain much longer. Hopefully such automated interpretation will lead to patient empowerment and make  deciding on clinical action an easier task.

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Hsp90 to end controversies in evolution theory (final chapter, blogging in Just Science 08)

In Uncategorized on February 8, 2008 at 9:42 am

Previous posts have shown Hsp90 to be a molecular buffer allowing rapid morphological changes in times of stress. As will be discussed below, such a buffering function supports the evolutionary theories of punctuated equilibria, hopeful monsters and canalization.

So…, this last post will end with the final conclusions based on the arguments presented in the previous 4 posts. But, first….Two fundamental questions:

1. Even if Hsp90 can promote rapid changes in phenotype (appearance) how is this change retained (fixed) for future generations ?

This fixation has been demonstrated to occur (see Sangster TA et al.), and the traits become independent of Hsp90. The exact mechanism(s) however remains to be elucidated.

Nevertheless, temporarily compromising Hsp90 function (either by drugs or by temperature rise) is sufficient for fixing new traits. Simulations seem to show that knocking out the genes for key proteins (not necessarily heat shock proteins) lead to increased phenotypic diversity, and thus the underlying cause may be genetic fixation. However, interplay between epigenetic and genetic mechanisms has been suggested and been backed up by experiments. Thus fixation probably happens through yet to determined genetic as well as epigenetic mechanisms, or a combination of both. A model for epigenetic fixation is given in the thumbnail below:

Epigenetic evolution through Hsp90

Models for genetic fixation follows the theory of canalization with Hsp90 functioning as the Waddington’s widget (see Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2003 Oct;14(5):301-10). This is discussed further under the next bulletpoint, the second question…..

2. Does these aspects of Hsp90-function fit into current models of evolution ?

Yes, although some of these theories are controversial. First we have the idea of punctuated equilibrium and hopeful monsters discussed in my previous post. To expand on these ideas let’s also include the theory of canalization. Canalization explains punctuated equilibrium by referring to an organisms buffering capacity (to counter the potential deleterious effects of mutations). The theory was put forward by C. H. Waddington more than 50 years ago, but is still controversial it seems. Hsp90 is a molecular explanation of the canalization concept in that organisms with different genotypes express the same phenotype until times of stress. There are also indications that other heat shock proteins or other “signaling hub”-proteins or even miRNA can serve such buffering functions (see references within this review).

Taken together, these controversial evolutionary theories and the experimental evidence on Hsp90 supports one another, and a paradigm shift in evolutionary biology is in place. Darwins theories are correct up to the point of gradual and constant evolution of traits. Evolution instead, occurs in bursts. This series of blogposts have conveyed the molecular evidence for such punctuated equlibria and canalization, which comes from studies on the molecular chaperone Hsp90. I hope I have enlightened and convinced at least some evolution biologists into believing that Darwins theories can be expanded to include these (no longer controversial) theories.

There are however, a lot to work out in terms of the underlying molecular mechanisms for Hsp90 (and/or other buffering bioactive molecules ?) in canalization. To end this blogpost-series I will therefore quote the closing remarks from Salathia N and Queitsch C‘s review in 2007:

“Clearly, organisms have succeeded in integrating multiple canalization mechanisms into robust wild-type phenotypes which can respond appropriately to environmental perturbations and evolve new shapes and functions over time. Now it is up to us to determine how molecules as diverse as a molecular chaperone, chromatin remodeling proteins, and the RNAi machinery interact coherently to achieve such synergy, a truly fascinating and worthy field of future inquiry.”

Evidence for Hsp90 involvement in rapid evolution of new traits (chapter IV, blogging in Just Science 08)

In Uncategorized on February 7, 2008 at 10:39 am

Previous posts have attempted to demonstrate that there is a potential role for (Heat Shock) proteins that mask mutations, to enable rapid evolutionary changes. The Hsp90 protein has been presented and the basic problems one face to explain bursts in evolution have been outlined. Now the time has come to show real examples of Hsp90 influencing the evolution of traits.

The following are very short summaries of key papers. For details, please see the referenced papers.

1. Hsp90 and Cancer

In 1993 Yang Xu and Susan Lindquist showed that Hsp90 associates with v-src and inhibits its activity in an concentration-dependent manner. Hsp90 was not merely an on and off switch for v-src, but exhibited transient inhibition, dependent on intracellular concentration of Hsp90. This was a clue to understanding Hsp90’s role in cancer (as well as in evolution). After this, many cancer-related proteins have been identified that interact with Hsp90 (see table).

Table from a review in Nature 2005 by Whitesell and Lindquisthsp90-table-2005-review.jpg

The mechanism one speculates, is similar at the molecular level, to the mechanisms postulated for morphological change. Hsp90 stabilizes the otherwise unstable oncogenic proteins, to aid in tumor growth in an environment hostile to tumor development. In other words: the heat shock proteins protects the oncogenic cells from stress. When the tumor cells subsequently attain further mutations and protein alterations, inherent to oncogenic growth, the heat shock proteins are unable to stabilize all of the altered proteins and the tumor can progress into accelerated growth and/or metastasis. The role of Hsp90 in cancer development has been widely accepted and inhibitors of Hsp90 activity is currently undergoing clinical trials for cancer treatments.

2. Drosophila

The key paper on Hsp90 and Drosophila evolution is the Rutherford and Lindquist paper in Nature 1998. This paper has been mentioned on several previous posts here on SciPhu and also in the introductory Just Science post. Again, the take home message is that reducing levels of Hsp90-activity leads to changes in phenotype. The reason for such dramatic effects is probably that Hsp90 stabilizes proteins that are key elements in intracellular signaling pathways. Often these are kinases, phosphatases or transcription factors, see this table for full list. The common feature of these affected proteins is that they regulate the activity of other proteins downstream in the signaling cascade. Thus, changes in the activity of one master protein acts on the stability and function of many other “executive” proteins ultimately resulting in massive changes. The phenomenon has further been elucidated in other species……….

3. Yeast

In yeast, a reduction in Hsp90 levels potentiates drug resistance and this resistance has multigenic determinants working through Hsp90. Hsp90 thus helps yeast evolve to counter the stressful effect of the drug. Interestingly, this effect is diminished by temperature rise. Increasing the stress (by adding heat) therefore, titrates Hsp90 away from the drug-resistance and makes the yeast vulnerable again (could this effect explain why fever has developed ?).

4. Arabidopsis

Evidence for the same mechanisms occurring in plants comes mainly from two publications on Arabidopsis thaliana (Queitsch C et al. and Sangster TA et al.). These images from the latter publication show the extensive morphological changes seen in the plants.

Figure 2. Similar morphological phenotypes of seedlings with reduced HSP90 function by RNAi or pharmacological means (GDA). (a) and (b): purple pigment accumulation; (c) and (d): organ number defect; (e) and (f): narrowly-shaped deformed true leaves; (g) and (h): twisted rosettes; (i) and (j): lobed cotyledon. RNAi plants are T3 generation with from line RNAi-A3. Size bar 2 mm for b and g–i, 1 mm for a, c–f, and 3 mm for normal phenotype. (b) and (f) originally published in [5].

These effects can also be induced by increasing the temperature. Demonstrating the generality in the stress response. Since the genetics of these plants is easier to trace in these plants than in Drosophila or Yeast, the evidence for buffering genetic changes is even more clear-cut in this organism.

An excellent illustration to summarize Hsp90-buffering comes from Sangster TA et al.:


In the last post I will present published models on how Hsp90 can act in evolution, – welcome back for the last post in Just Science 08, tomorrow.