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Breaking chromosomes to study cancer !!!

Chromosomes are present in every cell of our body and they contain the information the body needs to develop and function properly. This information is carried in genes that are arranged along the chromosomes. There are usually 46 chromosomes in every cell. These chromosomes come in pairs, one from our mother and one from our father. The chromosomes can be sorted into 23 pairs by looking at them down a microscope.

Most people who have a balanced translocation have the right amount of chromosome material but it has been rearranged in some way. This may happen if two chromosomes swap pieces (a reciprocal translocation). In other cases two whole chromosomes may become stuck together (a Robertsonian translocation). This page describes what happens when someone has a reciprocal translocation.

Reciprocal chromosomal translocations occur following double-strand breaks (DSBs) in DNA when a section of one chromosome is exchanged with that of another, non-homologous chromosome. These exchanges may produce a dysfunctional fusion gene that disrupts cell growth and survival pathways, such as the translocations seen in leukemia and childhood sarcomas.

Chromosomal translocations have been well studied in cancer cell lines which are associated with two types of cancer, acute myeloid leukemia and Ewing's sarcoma, but determining how they contribute to cancer development is complicated by additional mutations and altered gene expression profiles in these cultured cells. Now, Juan Carlos Ramirez, head of the Viral Vector Facility at the Fundacion Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares (CNIC) and his colleagues Raul Torres at CNIC and Sandra Rodriguez-Peralez at the Spanish National Cancer Center (CNIO) in Madrid, Spain have used a new genome editing tool, CRISPR-Cas9, to induce chromosomal translocations for the first time in a human cell line and in primary cells. The study's authors conclude by stating that the use of this technology will allow for the clarification of how and why chromosomal translocation occurs, which without doubt will allow new anti-cancer therapeutic strategies to be tackled.

Using RNA-Guided Endonuclease (RGEN) technology or CRISPR/Cas9 genome engineering technology, CNIO and CNIC researchers have shown that it is possible to obtain such chromosomal translocations. The CRISPR-Cas9 system is extremely simple to introduce a cut at the desired locus, easier to design, and cheaper than many other systems. Using the CRISPR-Cas9 system, Ramirez and his colleagues reproduced the translocations observed in Ewing’s Sarcoma (ES) and Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) patient cell lines in HEK293 cells and also generated the ES translocation in human mesenchymal stem cells and the AML translocation in umbilical cord blood cells.

By focusing on chromosomal translocation without the confounding characteristics of established cell lines, these new cells lines should help answer the fundamental question of what causes a cell to become cancerous. Ramirez and his team now look forward to modeling other chromosome translocations in a variety of cell types.