The breast cancer susceptibility genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, are used to illustrate the application of molecular biology to clinical radiation oncology. Identified by linkage analysis and cloned, the structure of the genes and the numerous mutations are determined by molecular biology techniques that examine the structure of the DNA and the proteins made by the normal and mutant alleles. Mutations in the non-transcribed portion of the gene will not be found in protein structure assays and may be important in gene function. In addition to potential deleterious mutations, normal polymorphisms of the gene will also be detected, therefore not all differences in gene sequence may represent important mutations, a finding that complicates genetic screening and counseling. The localization of the protein in the nucleus, the expression in relation to cell cycle and the association with RAD51 led to the discovery that the two BRCA genes may be involvedin transcriptional regulation and DNA repair. The defect in DNA repair can increase radiosensitivity which might improve local control using breast-conserving treatment in a tumor which is homozygous for the loss of the gene (i.e., BRCA1 and BRCA2 are tumor suppressor genes). This is supported by the early reports of a high rate of local control with breast- conserving therapy. Nonetheless, this radiosensitivity theoretically may also lead to increased susceptibility to carcinogenic effects in surviving cells, a finding that might not be observed for decades. The susceptibility to radiation-induced DNA damage appears also to make the cells more sensitive to chemotherapy. Understanding the role of the normal BRCA genes in DNA repair might help define a novel mechanism for radiation sensitization by interfering with the normal gene function using a variety of molecular or biochemical therapies.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
- Cancer Research